Sutherland Sharks have completed a remarkable hat-trick of Championships with an incredible comeback win on penalties, adding to their 2017 and 2018 titles with perhaps the sweetest victory of all.
The Sharks were left shellshocked by as they went down 2-0 to a Suleyman Bangura double before the half hour mark, but pulled a goal back shortly after through a James Temelkovski penalty to give themselves hope heading into the break.
The Sharks completed the comeback only a few minutes into the second half with Alexander Lopez’s spectacular scissor kick, forcing extra time and an extraordinary penalty shootout which saw seven saves before Matthew Taverniti scored the winner.
The match was barely a minute old before the first push-and-shove of the afternoon, an exchange which set the tone for the half to come as neither side gave the other an inch.
Emmanuel Gonzalez might’ve opened the scoring when he found himself on the end of a long ball across the area which dropped at the back post, but mistimed his volley and sent the ball spinning over the bar.
Sutherland had their chances too, with James Temelkovski unsurprisingly in the middle of the action. The striker first saw a freekick on the edge of the box blocked away by Rhett Desilva, before a second effort was thwarted by Stuart Gosling sliding in at the last moment.
The Sharks appeared the more likely of the two sides to break the deadlock, but were sent into a spin by two unfortunate deflections as the half hour mark approached.
William Mutch played a pass toward the penalty spot but the ball flicked off Brodie Clarkson and ran for Suleyman Bangura; the Blacktown man taking his time to line up his shot before hitting the ball across the keeper and inside the far post.
Blacktown and Bangura had a second barely three minutes later. An attack down the left saw a pass cut back for the striker to stab at goal with a sea of bodies between him and the Mario Aleskik; the ball bouncing up off Jarrad Wiley to wrongfoot the keeper and give the Premiers a 2-0 lead.
Sutherland heads might have dropped after Bangura’s second, but the Sharks pushed on as they looked to mount a comeback.
They wouldn’t have to wait long; Thomas Papa putting Alexander Lopez through on goal only for the forward to be hauled down by Stuart Gosling as he broke into the area. James Temelkovski stepped up to the spot and sent Dylan Niski the wrong way to halve the deficit, leaving Sutherland chasing a leveller as the whistle blew on a tetchy opening 45 minutes.
Halftime came and went, with Sutherland wasting little time in their hunt for an equaliser.
Alexander Lopez came agonisingly close only a few minutes after the break, latching onto a pass across the top of the box from Temelkvoski to send the ball crashing off the base of the near post before Quentin Cheng’s follow-up was blocked away for a corner.
Lopez wouldn’t be denied with his next effort as the corner dropped inside the six-yard box. With a man on his back, the Sutherland midfielder threw his legs over his head to hit a scissor kick at goal; the shot too strong – and unexpected – for Dylan Niski to keep from settling in the back of the net.
Sutherland were irrepressible in attack, leaving Blacktown chasing shadows as they went looking for a third. The Premiers weren’t without their chances – a Manny Gonzalez free kick drew a sharp save from Aleksik at the near post – but the run of play had undoubtedly swung in the Sharks’ favour.
Quentin Cheng and James Carli had their chances on the right, while at the other end a hopeful drive from Rhett Desilva swerved enough in the air to force Aleksik into a dramatic fingertip save.
Still, neither side could muster up another goal in the final ten minutes; this Grand Final needing extra time to find a winner.
Dale Howarth had a weak shot gathered easily by the keeper after a strong run from his own half, and Cheng had yet another effort saved by Niski as Sutherland rolled into the box in numbers. Alen Aganovic might have scored his side’s third when he rose to meet a corner in the final minute of the first half of extra time, but Aleksik was on hand again to push the ball away as it bounced towards goal.
Deren O’Brien should have won it for Sutherland with one of the last kicks of the game; played in on goal with only the keeper to beat only for a defender to streak across and make a desperate block as he pulled the trigger.
The final whistle sounded, and Blacktown and Sutherland lined up along the halfway line for penalties.
Alexander Purves and James Temelkovski saw their first penalties saved, before the two sides traded conversions as the score levelled at 2-2. Aleksik made another extraordinary stop which was followed by another save from Niski; the shootout going into sudden death. Another two saves followed before Blacktown were denied again, leaving Matthew Taverniti to step up to win it for the Sharks.
Niski could do no more; diving the wrong way as Taverniti stroked his shot down the middle of the goal. The Sutherland bench exploded, handing Nick Dimovski his third championship in as many years and a fairytale finish in his last match before taking charge of the Sharks’ first grade team next season.
“I’ve been through some tough times,” said Nick Dimovski.
“I lost both my parents recently, but the penalty kicks definitely tested my heart, I thought I was going to have a heart attack!
“I’m ecstatic. I’m so proud of my boys. I asked these boys to be sixteen legends, and they stood up and delivered. To be 2-0 down in a cup final and to come back and win it is such a test of character. We could’ve gone home and died but they rose another level, it’s massive.”
“Penalties is such a tough way to lose,” said Andy Montgomery. “I told these boys before the game that the true test of a team is the Premiership over 22 rounds which we did, but whenever there’s cups to win we want to win them. I’ll be here next year to go again.”
Blacktown City FC 2 (Bangura 28’, 31’)
Sutherland Sharks FC 2 (Temelkovski 36’, Lopez 48’)
Sutherland win 4-3 on penalties
31st August, 2019
Referee: C. Wright
Assistant Referees: H. Fenton-White & S. Quinn
Fourth Official: S. Kelly
Blacktown City FC: 21. MUTCH William, 34. BANGURA Suleyman, 32. DE OLIVIERA Carlos, 24. BANDIERA Jackson, 18. BARTOLOTTO Josh, 20. NISKI Dylan, 26. AGANOVIC Alen, 27. PURVES Alexander, 35. DESILVA Rhett, 11. GONZALEZ Emmanuel (16. HOWARTH Dale), 31. GOSLING Stuart (33. GALLO Anthony)
Substitutes not used: 29. COLOSIMO Daniel, 1. CUNICO Zane, 38. MCLOUGHLIN Kai
Yellow cards: Bandiera 23’, Gosling 35’
Sutherland Sharks FC: 2. CHENG Quentin (23. O’BRIEN Deren), 38. TEMELKOVSKI James, 25. CLARKSON Brodie, 29. WILEY Jarrad, 15. PAPA Thomas (35. MCDONALD Jacob), 34. JONES Charlie (27. TAVERNITI Matthew), 32. LOPEZ Alexander, 28. STEWART Richard, 31. CARLI James, 24. BRISCHETTO Dominic, 26. ALEKSIK Mario
Substitutes not used: 37. BOVA Andrew, 39. PAULL Jordan
Yellow cards: Lopez 64’, Taverniti 106’