Round Eighteen of League Two Men’s gave the season even more meaning with the race for promotion and finals set to go down to the wire.
Our match of the round saw Gladesville Ryde Magic catapult themselves back within a win of promotion as they took down Dulwich Hill.
Elsewhere, Rydalmere Lions made it back-to-back wins against Dunbar Rovers, Sydney University gave themselves one last lifeline with a win against Bankstown United, as Central Coast United returned to winning ways against Inner West Hawks.
Macarthur Rams took three crucial points against Canterbury Bankstown, as Inter Lions confirmed their promotion with an emphatic win over Bankstown City.
Match of the Round: Gladesville Ryde Magic 3-0 Dulwich Hill FC
Gladesville Ryde Magic have put themselves within two points of a promotion spot after taking down Dulwich Hill in a crucial six-pointer.
The Magic got off to a rapid start and managed to get a goal on either side of the opening kick offs.
Nicholas Drummond opening the scoring for the hosts, before the ‘Golden Boy’ of the Magic, Bailey Stevens bagged a brace off the bench in the second half.
Gladesville Ryde started off the game with an intense pace and caught the Dulwich Hill defence off-guard when Drummond broke through the defensive line and scored the opener.
After stunningly going behind, it took a few more minutes for Dulwich to assert themselves back in the game as they began to go back and forth with the Magic.
The first chance for Dulwich Hill fell to Daniel Fornito who had his close-range header saved by Gabriel Koliomihos.
Gladesville Ryde went right back on the attack and came close to a second goal as Michael Gaitatzis’ half-volley went just wide of the target.
The Magic had appeals for a second denied, as Daniel Rigby beat Ryan Wood to an aerial duel and headed the ball close to the line before the Dulwich Hill keeper desperately recovered the goal-bound effort.
It was the shot-stoppers who become the heroes in the end of the first half, with both Chris Gaitatzis and Goncalo Paradanta having their curling efforts sensationally denied within moments of each other.
It was a relatively even first half with the Magic having arguably more chances in a fast-paced, back and forth opening 45 minutes.
Dulwich Hill had Déjà vu with the Magic getting on the board in the opening minutes after kick-off – for the second time in the game.
Chris Gaitatzis found himself with space down the line on a counter attack and sent an early ball through to Stevens who was left with a one-on-one with Wood, where he smashed his chance home.
The Magic flourished from this point on and continued to put the pressure on the Dulwich Hill defence, as Drummond missed his chance to secure a brace shortly after.
Gladesville Ryde put the result beyond doubt in the 67th minute, after Michael Gaitatzis set up Stevens in a carbon-copy print of his earlier goal, as the 19-year-old once again found himself in prime position from close range to secure a brace.
Joseph Manduca came close to an opener for Dulwich Hill, with a long range free-kick that narrowly fizzled over the bar.
Dulwich Hill had one last chance in the dying stages as Emmanuel Zervas’ near open header agonisingly went wide, in an attempt that summed up the frustrating day for the visitors.
Gladesville Ryde held on for the win and their fourth clean sheet of the season, putting themselves back within a win of promotion.
The Magic now move onto another crucial fixture as they face Rydalmere next week, with Dulwich Hill going against Inter Lions.
Dunbar Rovers FC 1-2 Rydalmere Lions FC
Rydalmere have secured their second consecutive win for the first time since Round 13, with a much-needed victory over Dunbar Rovers.
After dominating in the first-half, Rydalmere had to hold off a rejuvenated Dunbar comeback in the second half and were pushed to their limits in the final period.
In the opening stages of the game, Rydalmere saw the majority of attacking chances and had the Rovers defence on the backfoot early.
The visitors opened the scoring in the 7th minute after Tim Wohfiel put in a perfect cross to the captain Ali McKie to give the Lions a deserved opener.
Dunbar found themselves back in the game throughout the first half, but their efforts were undone on the stroke of halftime.
Nicholas Trimble came close to the second goal after hitting the woodwork, but it was Matthew West who gave Rydalmere a two goal advantage courtesy of a Dillan Kahale assist.
The Rovers were back in the game in the second half after holding off a few more attacking chances from Rydalmere in the opening stages.
Dunbar’s opener came in the 82nd minute through Olivier Beltran-Woodward, which ignited a late surge from the hosts.
Rydalmere’s defence remained resilient and held off Dunbar in the final minutes to hold on for the crucial victory.
Dunbar now sit two points clear of Gladesville Ryde in ninth and will move onto to a crucial match-up with Bankstown City next week.
Rydalmere will look to make it three in a row and could do Dunbar a favour when they take on the Magic in Round 19.
Bankstown United FC 0-2 Sydney University SFC
Sydney Uni have secured their first back-to-back win of the season and have kept their promotion hopes alive for another week with a critical victory over Bankstown United.
The visitors have found some form in the latter stages of the season and now find themselves with three wins in their last four games.
Uni looked comfortable with the ball and controlled the majority of proceedings, but didn’t have a goal to show for their efforts until the 72nd minute.
Ed Jabbari finally cracked the United defence late on and gave Uni a much deserved first goal of the game.
Uni sealed the game in the final minutes as Thomas Quilligan continued on his good run of form with another goal.
It was a very difficult game for United as they officially sealed their fate in League Two for next season, with coach Scott Belgre describing it as “probably our worst performance of the season”.
Uni continue their surge for promotion when they face Inner West next week, as United travel to Macarthur to battle the Rams.
Inner West Hawks FC 0-2 Central Coast United FC
Central Coast have put themselves one win closer to booking a spot in the finals series by returning to the winner’s circle against Inner West.
It was the second game in as many weeks for Central Coast at Arlington Oval, however this time they avenged their defeat from last week.
Central Coast opened the scoring through Cade Mapu after he poached a save from Diego Barcena that fell perfectly into his path.
It was a positive first half for the Hawks, but United were on top on the scoreboard and found themselves with the majority of chances.
Inner West were dealt a massive blow in the 57th minute when Emmanuel Koumis was taken off with a dislocated shoulder that could rule him out for the season.
Daniel McFarlane converted on a corner in the 73rd minute to seal the result and give his side three more points.
With the win Central Coast move five points clear of sixth place and return to their fortress at Pluim Park next week when they face Canterbury Bankstown.
Inner West will look to continue to bleed more youth players in as they return to Arlington Oval as the visitors to battle Sydney Uni.
Canterbury Bankstown FC 0-1 Macarthur Rams FC
Macarthur have given themselves so much needed breathing room in the race for finals as they took down a side with similar aspirations in Canterbury Bankstown.
The Rams’ had their league best defence on display once again as they kept their sixth clean sheet of the season.
After an even start to the game, it was the visitors who got the lone goal of the game after Jacob McDonald buried his chance home from a corner on the brink of halftime.
Macarthur’s defence stepped up a level and were admittedly strong for the rest of the game, as they kept the Berries goalless.
The Berries had a golden chance to salavage a draw in the final moments of the game, as Justin Ivanovic found himself in prime position in the box but had his chance saved by Steven Savicic.
With a make-up game to come, Canterbury Bankstown will consider this a massive missed opportunity to secure a finals berth and gave their closest rival a big boost.
The Berries move onto a tough away fixture next week as they face Central Coast, as Macarthur return home to battle Bankstown United.
Inter Lions FC 3-0 Bankstown City FC
Inter Lions have become the first side to officially book their ticket for promotion with their 12th win of the season against Bankstown City.
It was a difficult game for City as they struggled to find a good amount of genuine chances and slid away from a guaranteed finals spot.
The hosts opened the scoring through Ollie Green after he neatly tucked away a shot from Sam Armson that rattled against the woodwork.
Owen Duke doubled Inter’s lead shortly before the break after capitalising on a misjudgment from the City defence for a near open header.
After having the majority of chances in the first half, Inter controlled the flow of the game in the second half and shut down the usually lethal attack of their opponents.
Inter put the result beyond doubt in the 78th minute when Duke finished off from some nice build-up play from Green and Giuseppe Tilio.
The leagued leaders sealed the result, their first clean sheet of the season and now put themselves five points clear at the top of the table.
Inter go back on the road next week as they face Dulwich Hill, as City host Dunbar Rovers in Round 19.
By Football NSW Men’s League Two Writer, Dominic Criniti @DominicCriniti