Wollongong FC and Sydney Olympic went into the game with both teams missing quality players from their line-up, but for those who turned out they were itching to get going when both teams inspected what was a perfect WIN Stadium pitch before kick-off.
The first strike in anger set the mood for Wollongong’s goal scoring hero Ilija Prenzoski, with his first effort from the edge of the Olympic area spraying just inches wide of the target.
Despite the Wolves earning the first real chance of the match it was Sydney Olympic who took control of the next period of play as the Blues were unlucky not to open the scoring shortly after.
Their first chance was a rocket of a cross from the right by Nathan Sherlock who found the head of Matthew Mayora in the penalty-area, and his timely header went just inches wide. Olympic again pushed forward and were again searching for their big men up-front when Zunino broke free and put the perfect ball onto the head of their big target man Paul Wither, but the quality of the cross was not matched with the quality of header and once again Olympic fired just inches over the bar.
Pretty-much against the run of play Wollongong FC surged forward through livewire midfielder Michael Hawrysiuk who found the darting Prenzoski?s angled run down the right. The striker collected the ball and ran at a tight angle at goal and his well-placed shot gave Emmanouil in goal no hope to save as the Wolves went ahead 1-0.
Olympic looked to push forward to equalise and just minutes later had a good chance to level the scores when a great individual run down the right of midfield by Anthony Doumanis saw him lob a ball into space for Mayora to run onto with a one-on-one at goal; but the presence of the lanky frame of Pasfield was too good for Mayora as he snatched the ball out of Mayora’s path and save the day for the Wolves.
Just a minute later it was Sherlock again who delivered a quality cross this time for Wither who again managed to out reach his opponents to head the ball goal-ward but again it was intercepted, this time, by the ever present Ben Blake for Wollongong.
Blake was again in the action in defence for Wollongong FC when a dangerous corner by Chris Triantis was fired into the area and a flick on by Zunino was met at the far post by Mayora. Captain Blake intervened and cleared it to safety again for Wollongong FC and they held on to their 1-0 lead going into the half-time break.
The second-half started similar to the first when again it was Prenzoski who fired the first shot in anger, although Prenzoski’s on-target shot was an easy save for Emmanouil.
A brilliant piece of individual brilliance by Mirko Jurilj almost created Sydney’s equaliser but Jurilj’s run from just over halfway into the Wolves? penalty-area saw him falter at the last line of defence but it managed to fall into the path of Mayora who at near point-blank range fired inches wide of the Wolves goal.
Within the first 20? minutes of the second period it was ?push, push, push? from Sydney Olympic and it would only be a matter of time when wave after wave of attack would bear fruit for the Blues. A couple of good chances to Triantis could have done with a touch of luck but alas it wasn’t to be with two very promising opportunities again firing wide of the mark.
The pressure finally told on Wollongong FC in the 73? minute when a cross into a crowded penalty-area saw Jordanian International Siraj Al-Tall get on the end with a header that finally found the mark, sending the contingent of Sydney Olympic supporters into raptures.
The Olympic fans didn’t have to wait long for a double celebration when 2? minutes later a power-drive from Triantis was blocked, and then a back-up strike from At-Tall was cleared off the line by Chris Price, but his clearance only went as far as Mayora who slammed home from close-range to burst the back net of the Wolves goal and send the home crowd into silence.
The Wolves made a change with just 10? minutes remaining bringing in young gun Samet Kaynak for the veteran Balla Conde and Kaynak’s enthusiasm seemed to lift the Wolves? search for an equaliser.
That goal came for Wollongong FC in the 84? minute when a superb cross with the outside of his left foot from Michael Hawrysiuk found the darting run of Matthew Bailey who headed first-time and bury the goal to lock it up at 2-2 with only minutes remaining.
With one minute left on the clock it was Olympic who could have sealed victory when Siraj Al-Tall had a chance to head at point-blank range past Pasfield, but Al-Tall’s header was an easy grab for Pasfield and he quickly fired the ball out of the Wolves final third and back up to Olympic’s for the final remaining seconds of normal time.
With extra-time looking ominous, the Wolves were not going to be denied the winner when a courageous fight back was complete following a real poacher?s goal in the final few seconds of normal time. Prenzoski followed up a second phase chance at goal after a good lead-up cross from the left by Price, and the subsequent play fell to Prenzoski who instinctively fired in the loose ball and sent the locals into a rush of noise.
The final whistle blew and the players from both sides couldn’t believe the miraculous turnaround of fortune.
Wollongong FC coach John Turner, whilst jubilant after the match, was cautious in his appraisal:
?That’s two games in the past 3 weeks that we came from behind to win 3-2.
We went to sleep for a quarter of an hour but 5 goals in a semi-final you just don’t see.?
Turner went on to mention that he feels his team has a long way to go yet in this competition and plenty of room to improve:
?This team is playing to about 75-80% of its potential and I believe we have what it takes to reach our full potential?.
The Wolves boss was also full of praise for the opportunity to play the fixture at WIN Stadium:
?The pitch was just magic, we should play all of our games here.?
For Wollongong there is an extra motivation to finish off their season on a good note with the players, coaching staff, club staff and supporters acknowledging their well wishes to their team mate Michael West who was seriously injured in their Round 22 match with Sutherland. The defeat of Sydney Olympic was a win not only for each individual player, but also for their team-mate ?Westy?.
For Sydney Olympic it was disbelief that they had lost the match after leading 2-1 with such a short space of time remaining. The side will need to re-group with a home semi-final next week against Manly United, whilst Wollongong will again travel to Sutherland, this time looking to seal their place in the Grand Final match on September 7th.
Wollongong FC 3 (Ilija Prenzoski 12′, 90′, Matthew Bailey 84′)
Sydney Olympic 2 (Siraj Al-Tall 73′, Matthew Mayora 75′)
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong Referee: Strebre Delovski
Assistant Referees: Alyson Flynn and Scott Edeling
Fourth Official: Brett HookhamCrowd: 1,200
Wollongong FC: 1. Justin PASFIELD; 2. Alfredo ESTEVES, 5. Steve HAYES, 6. Ilija PRENZOSKI, 7. Michael HAWRYSIUK, 8. Mitchell LONG, 10. Balla CONDE (15. Samet KAYNAK 80′), 12. Chris PRICE, 13. Tynan DIAZ, 17. Ben BLAKE (C), 19. Matt BAILEY
Substitutes Not Used: 20. Michael TURNBULL (GK), 3. Brent FARNSWORTH, 11. Josh PRICE, 16. Karouna MICHAEL
Yellow Cards: 13. Tynan DIAZ 56′, 2. Alfredo ESTEVES 72′
Red Cards: Nil
Sydney Olympic: 20. Sam EMMANOUIL; 3. Emmanuel ZUNINO (25. Emmanuel GIANNAROS 86′), 4. Mirko JURILJ (C), 7. Milorad SIMONOVIC, 8. Paul WITHER, 10. Anthony DOUMANIS (19. Marino MUSUMECI 70′), 15. Matthew MAYORA, 16. Nathan SHERLOCK, 18. Chris TRIANTIS, 37. Siraj AT-TALL, 73. Matthew JURMAN
Substitutes Not Used: 1. Michael HERBET (GK), 5. Michael CINDRIC, 12. James KOVAS
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
3 ? Michael HAWRYSIUK (WFC)
2 ? Emmanuel ZUNINO (SO)
1 ? Ilija PRENZOSKI (WFC)
-By Andrew Byron