Sydney United 58 has clinched fourth spot and a home final with a brilliant 3-1 win against Manly United at Sydney United Sports Centre on Sunday.
The win sets up a thrilling clash against fierce rivals Marconi Stallions in week one of the playoffs.
First half goals to Matthew Bilic and Peter Simonoski set the tone for United 58 with substitute Patrick Antelmi securing a vital three points when he volleyed home in the 81st minute.
Manly looked to put a spanner in the works when Scott Balderson scored against the run of play on the cusp of half time, but it proved to be nothing more than a flash in the pan.
The match also marked retiring United 58 great Petar Markovic’s final regular season match after the veteran defender announced he was calling a close to his playing career which has spanned 22 years at the club.
It was a fast start to the match with the home side playing an expansive brand of football to open the contest.
Tariq Maia thought he’d found the opener 11 minutes in but his snap shot from inside the box clanged against the upright and away to safety.
However, the home side wouldn’t have to wait long to take the lead with Matthew Bilic rising above his marker to nod a Matt Sim cross into the back of the net in the 13th minute.
It was a one sided match with United 58 dominating possession and forcing Manly onto the back foot.
The visitors were struggling to make inroads and failed to mount a shot on target in the opening 25 minutes.
The pressure was mounting on Manly and United 58 striker Simonoski made the home side’s advantage count by firing home from just inside the penalty area to double their lead to 2-0.
With Sydney United 58 seemingly coasting their way to the interval, Manly unexpectedly struck back.
Brendan Cholakian won the ball in midfield before releasing Adam Parkhouse down the wing to fire in a cross which an unmarked Balderson nodded into the back of the net.
The goal turned the match on its head as a reignited Manly attack pushed for an equaliser before half time.
Manly had renewed vigour after the break and looked far more threatening in attack.
Cholakian and Parkhouse were the danger men for Manly and forced Manos into two saves early in the half.
United 58 defender Tomislav Uskok nearly cost his side with his attempt at a headed clearance going inches away from landing into the back of his own net with Manos tipping the ball over the bar with a last ditch effort.
Brad McDonald spurned a gilt edged chance in the 72nd minute when he dragged his shot wide after being found in the centre of the penalty area unmarked after some amazing dribbling from Massimo Forlico.
Despite all Manly’s efforts their hopes of taking a point away from the last match of the season were dashed in the 81st minute courtesy of a brilliant poachers finish from Antelmi.
The United 58 substitute was in the right place at the right time to bury the ball into the back of the net after a brilliant assist from Sim.
Retiring United 58 club great Markovic was introduced off the bench and nearly made an instant impact with a lung busting run through midfield before firing straight at the keeper.
Manly tried gallantly to close the gap in the dying seconds but it wasn’t to be as United 58 held on for a hugely important victory.
United 58 veteran Markovic was all smiles at full time with the result postponing his retirement from the club another week.
“Today was an amazing experience and to get the result in front of so many passionate fans was an incredible experience,” he said.
“We knew we had a job to do today and we got exactly the result we needed.
“It was a very special moment to be recognised by the club and the fans. Now we get a home final and a chance to do it all again.
“The finals are a different beast and I’m confident this Sydney United team has the parts to go all the way,”
Although his side was on the wrong side of the 3-1 final score, Manly coach Paul Dee was looking to the positives after the match.
“Obviously it isn’t the way you want to end your season but I thought there was plenty to take out of that game ahead of our FFA Cup match in Brisbane later this month.
“Sydney United had everything to play for and were at home so it was always going to be a tough ask.
“I was really happy with our young players today and I felt they made the most of the opportunity they were given.
“With the league season over we can now move our focus to the FFA Cup and hopefully with our injured players coming back hopefully we can make a really deep run in that competition.”
Sydney United 58 FC: 3 (Bilic 13’, Simonoski 31’, Antelmi)
Manly United FC: 1 (Balderson 33’)
Sunday, 11 August 2019
Sydney United Sports Centre, Edensor Park
Referee: M Weiner
Assistant Referee: L Greenshields & J Park
Fourth official: S Quinn
Sydney United 58: 21. Thomas Manos, 3. Jordan Roberts, 7. Peter Simonoski, 8. Matthew Sim (6. Petar Markovic 84’), 12. Liam Rose, 14. Tomislav Uskok, 15. Tarik Maia (11. Yianni Perkatis 63’), 17. Matthew Bilic, 18. Glen Trifiro (9. Patrick Antelmi 70’), 20. Cristian Gonzalez, 22. Yianni Fragogiannis.
Substitutes not used: 1. Daniel Sadaka, 19. Joshua Macdonald.
Manly United: 1. Dylan Mitchell, 4. Travis Oughtred, 5. Sam Gallagher, 6. Joseph Fox (31. Maximillian Rogers 61’), 8. Dom Ferguson (21. Finn Ashton 88’), 10. Brendan Cholakian, 11. Adam Parkhouse (47. Massimo Forlico 70’), 13. Scott Balderson, 17. Lewis Miccio, 23.Bradley McDonald, 30. Lucas Rainbird
Substitutes not used: 3. James Georgaklis, 32. Makenzie Syron.
Yellow cards: Gallagher 29′
Player Ratings have now been hidden due to the second half of the season commencing.