Blacktown Spartans FC and Manly United FC played out a 1-1 draw on a cold, but clear, Saturday evening at Blacktown Football Park in Rooty Hill where both sides had their respective chances to snare the full three points on offer but failed to capitalise on chances created.
In a somewhat dreary first-half, where neither side really troubled the opposing goalkeeper until the dying minutes, it was Manly United who controlled the majority of proceedings through the dangerous pairing of Matt Sim and Brendan Cholakian that had the Spartans defensive men in a spin with their dazzling footwork and energetic runs.
Despite the dominance by Manly United up front, the opportunities were few and far between in terms of shots on goal where Spartans shot-stopper, and captain, Carlos Saliadarre was rarely called into action, and it was even more so for his opposing number down at the other end of the field in Dylan Mitchell who was in danger of catching a cold in the chilling conditions given his limited role early on.
In fact it wasn’t until the 15’ minute mark where the first realistic sniff of a chance materialised when the dangerous Cholakian was allowed to drift across field unattended just outside the box where he fired off a shot marginally wide of the right post.
The opening stanza bore witness to a Spartans side that was a far cry from the classy outfit that outpointed championship favourite Bonnyrigg White Eagles just one week earlier as they had now resorted to defensive lapses, careless errors and erratic long balls that were frustratingly sent aimlessly up the field.
The Spartans, in essence, were a long way off their best and if it were not for Manly United’s inept ability to create shots on goal, the Spartans could have been trailing by any number of goals after the first 40’ minutes.
However, as lackluster as the game was for those first 40’ minutes, the final 5’ minutes of the opening half were anything but, and signified a turning point in the game for the excitement that was set to unfold. New recruit Phil Makrys, who, like fellow former Sydney Olympic stalwart Emmanuel Giannaros, struggled to come to come to grips with the artificial home surface, began to come into his own as the game progressed, and it was a shot from around 30-metres out from the Manly goal mouth in centre-field that tested the Manly keeper for the first and only time of the opening half.
With seemingly nothing on offer for the Spartans in attack, Makrys fired off a long-range bolter in the 43’ minute that dipped at the last moment and forced a fully launched Mitchell to tip the ball over the crossbar to prevent what would have been a brilliant opening goal.
The resultant corner was cleared by the Manly United defence where the rapidly developing counter-attack caught the Spartans tall defenders well up the field. Manly United’s best player in the opening half Cholakian was gifted a neat through ball down the right side and raced toward the Spartans goal mouth with clear intention.
With the a lone Spartans’ defender coming across in cover defence and allowing Cholakian far too much of a shooting angle on goal, the Manly United striker seized the opportunity and fired off a splendid shot that went through the normally safe Saliadarre’s hands and into the back of the net to provide the visiting side with a 1-nil lead at the half-time break.
Whatever Spartans coach Ben Dehaan said to his troops in the sheds during the break had an immediate effect as the long balls that had plagued his side in the first half were replaced with some short, sharp, clear passing that almost paid dividends in the 48’ minute when Giannaros crossed from the right side into the box where an unmarked Brenton Rhodes shot sailed agonisingly over the crossbar.
The Spartans didn’t have to wait too much longer to reap the benefits of a much more aligned performance, when a perfectly executed free kick – some 40 metres out on the right side – by Daniel Wilkinson in the 53’ minute swung perfectly off the left boot to deceive the Manly keeper and level the scores at one-goal-a-piece.
The rejuvenated Spartans went close to providing the go-ahead goal in the 63’ minute when a quick-thinking Saliadarre cleared the ball 75-metres down the field following a routine save. The ever-aware Spartans keeper found the feet of an unmarked Jun Kato lurking deep inside Manly’s half, and his nice ball back to Andre Carle should have been rewarded with something better than the wayward shot delivered well over the bar.
Manly United were not without chances of their own as they too could have edged ahead in the 69’ minute when a crafty little free-kick behind the Blacktown wall by Sim to his partner-in-crime Cholakian caught the Spartans defence unawares and could have proven costly for the home side following Cholakian’s cross from the right had his teammates tracking through in the middle clued in as to what he and Sim had been scheming.
However, tragedy struck for the Manly side when in the 81’ minute a clumsy tackle from behind by Cholakian did not go unnoticed by referee Adrian Arndt who showed the Manly forward his second yellow of the night which was immediately followed by the ‘dreaded red’ that saw him dismissed from the field to set up an enthralling final 9’ minutes of regulation time.
The Spartans crowd, who had braved the frosty conditions, were heartily warmed by the fact that the opposition were reduced to ten men and that their side now had a realistic chance of snaring all three much-needed competition points.
Blacktown appeared to have landed the killer blow when in the 88’ minute an innocuous cross by Carle from the left side sailed wide of the goal, but somehow managed to clip the hand of Manly defender Danny Grant who was positioned just inside of the box.
The ensuing whistle must of sent heart palpitations through the hapless Grant who had toiled hard all night long, and when the referee pointed directly to the spot, it appeared that the Spartans had cashed in their ‘Get out of Jail Free Card’ given their lackluster opening 45’ minutes.
The normally reliant Luke Austin stepped up to take the penalty, and appearing cool, calm and collected, Austin gave the ball an almighty whack that sailed miles above the crossbar and out onto neighbouring Eastern Road to ensure that that the game fizzled out to a deserved draw.
“Our cohesion just wasn’t there tonight, we lost our shape and not one player played well in that first half,” claimed a clearly frustrated Spartans coach Ben DeHaan to Football NSW shortly his side’s Round 14 game.
“And to top it off to see a keeper mistake where the ball goes through his [Saliadarre’s] hands like it did – I mean you never see Carlos do that, and from a free-kick 30 yards out.
“We came back well in the second half and to score the equaliser early on in the second-half was good, but we had our chances to score again, and to miss a penalty like we did is just very frustrating … we’ve lacked in our front third all year and again it was clearly on display tonight.”
And when questioned as to who he thought was his best on the night, DeHaan threw no punches in his response when he stated, “I’d say no one – I’ve got to be honest that was one of our worst performances, we could have won and were disgusting… that’s what it has come to tonight”.
Manly United coach Craig Midgley was more glowing of his side’s performance, but was disappointed that they didn’t capitalise on the strong first half performance:
“I thought we were very, very good in the first-half as we dictated the terms out there,” claimed Midgley.
“They tried to hurt us with the long balls in behind and we dealt with that quite well, and going forward, we we’re worthy of the one goal half time lead and it could have been even more of a lead.
“Our forwards in Brendan [Cholakian] and Matty [Sim] are keys for us when we’ve got the ball as they are very effective for us – we’ve just got to ensure that we are able to get the ball to them as often as we can for them to keep that effectiveness happening. It was a shame that Brendan did get sent off, but that’s how it goes.
“Sure I’d like to have had a bit more effort on goal, but in this league it is hard to break down teams and the Spartans certainly have a good side on paper … Overall though, I’m very happy with that performance that we put in.”
Blacktown Spartans FC head south-east next week as they take on the in-form Rockdale City Suns at Ilinden Sports Centre on Sunday afternoon. The Suns were on a 10-game unbeaten streak prior to their Round 14 home loss last week to the white-hot Sydney United 58 FC, so Ben DeHaan’s men will be hoping to emulate United 58’s feat and avenge their own disappointing 2-1 home loss against the Suns back in April. It doesn’t get any easier for Manly United FC next week as they are again on the road and face a tough task against competition leaders Bonnyrigg White Eagles. Narrowly beaten 1-0 in the corresponding game back in April on their hallowed Cromer Park turf, Manly will start as rank outsiders against the White Eagles who have an imposing 5-wins, 1-draw and are yet to lose a game at their fortress Bonnyrigg Sports Club in Season 2013.
Blacktown Spartans 1 (Daniel Wilkinson 53’)
Manly United FC 1 (Brendan Cholakian 44’)
Saturday June 15, 2013
Blacktown Football Park, Rooty Hill
Referee: Adrian Arndt
Assistant Referees: Nick Backo and Craig Fisher
Fourth Official: Sebastien Brennan
Blacktown Spartans: 1.Carlos Saliadarre; 2.Luke Austin, 3.Nathan Millgate, 5.Daniel Wilkinson, 7.Phillip Makrys (24.Reid Taylor 80’), 8.Brenton Rhodes (30.Keiran Dalton 90’), 9.Jun Kato, 11.Tyson Rhodes, 15.Andre Carle, 16.Emmanuel Giannaros, 32.Luke Jenner (38.Zac Freeburn 45’)
Substitutes Not Used: 20.Luke Turnbull, 26.Mitchell Osmond,
Yellow Cards: Andre Carle 24’, Luke Austin 63’
Red Cards: Nil
Manly United FC: 1.Dylan Mitchell; 2.Leigh Egger, 3.Roberto Hamad, 5.Josh Lawson, 6.Danny Grant, 10.Colin Iley, 11.Matt Sim, 12.Brendan Cholakian, 14.David Cain, 15.Jimmy Oates, 16.Josh Ward (18.Dejan Pandurevic 80’) 32.Michael McGinley 87’)
Substitutes Not Used: 20.Tonu Liiband, 24.Tom Morrissey, 39.Jack Park
Yellow Cards: Roberto Hamad 51’, Brendan Cholakian 66’
Red Cards: Brendan Cholakian 81’
-By Gary McDonald