APIA Leichhardt Tigers has secured the PlayStation®4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Premiership after a hard fought 1-1 draw with Rockdale City Suns at Lambert Park on Sunday.
A Jordan Murray penalty in the 74th minute secured the club’s first title in 30 years sending a boisterous home crowd into raptures.
However, it wasn’t all easy going for the home side with Alec Urosevski scoring a sublime free-kick to give Rockdale the lead against the run of play in the 44th minute.
With history on the line, the Danial Cummins coached side found an extra gear when it mattered most to cement their place in history.
From the opening whistle both teams were like a bull at a gate.
After only three minutes APIA went mere inches away from taking the lead when an audacious chip from Tasuku Sekiya sailed agonisingly over the crossbar.
One thing the match wasn’t lacking was passion, with physical tackles and a plenty of desperation making for exhilarating opening exchanges between the team.
Despite stifling heat APIA pushed forward with increased fervour and created chance after chance.
Ante Covic was called into action in the Rockdale goal to deny a rasping shot from Josh Symons in the 20th minute before Sekiya wasted a gilt-edged chance moments later when he dragged his shot from close range wide.
Rockdale had a chance of their own moments later but APIA ’keeper Ivan Necevski made a reaction save to deny Jordan Figon at the near post.
APIA threw everything forward but still Covic proved hard to beat. A powerful driving shot from Corey Bizco was again saved by the former Socceroos shot stopper.
Frustrations got the better of APIA and on the cusp of halftime they paid the price.
Lining up over a set piece 23 yards from goal, Alec Urosevski fired a sublime curling free kick into the back of the net. The APIA crowd was silenced.
The home side had one final chance before the break when Murray was one on one with the keeper, but a last ditch lunge from Steven Hesketh blocked the shot.
Hesketh went form hero to zero only moments after the resumption of play when he was sent off after receiving his second yellow.
Rockdale were forced into a reshuffle with defender Brayden Sorge called on in place of striker Figon as the visitors looked to protect their lead.
Despite being a man down the Suns went on the attack and in the 59th minute Gaitatzis was denied by the upright.
With their premiership hopes on the line APIA kicked back into gear with 30 minutes left on the clock.
In the 61st minute Covic came to the rescue once again when he made a desperation save to deny Murray.
While APIA had most of possession, it wasn’t until the addition of Franco Parisi when the home side truly started to threaten.
In the 74th minute APIA finally had the breakthrough they had so desperately wanted and it was that man Parisi who played a key role.
A stunning lofted ball found Murray in full stride but he was cut down in the box by Rockdale defender Daniel Saric. The striker dusted himself off and fired the spot kick past the outstretched arms of Covic to level the scores and put APIA on the cusp of Premiership victory.
The equaliser changed the tone of the match with both sides seemingly happy to settle for a draw.
There was nearly a cruel twist right at the death for the home fans when Rockdale’s Ricciuto found himself one on one with the keeper in the final seconds.
However, the assistant referees offside flag ensured it would be party time at Lambert Park for the APIA faithful.
You couldn’t wipe the smile off Cummins face after the match.
“This is an incredible feeling. It is a historic moment for the club and to do so in this fashion makes it even sweeter,” he said.
“Down 1-0 at half time I told the boys to stay focused and the goal will come. It was a hard fought match and I’m proud of the way the players performed.”
“We will enjoy the moment but this isn’t it for us, we are determined to continue our run come the finals.”
Rockdale coach Paul Reid already had one eye on next week’s preliminary semi-final against Blacktown City.
“It was a physical match today and we really pushed APIA for a good part of the match,” he said.
“However, once we went down to ten men we had to change the way we played but to hold on for the draw and secure third spot is a good sign of character from the players.
“Our focus now is on the finals, we are confident we can get a result against Blacktown to set up a rematch against APIA.”
APIA will now represent NSW in the 2017 PS4 NPL Finals Series and will also have the weekend off while Rockdale City Suns travel to Lily Homes Stadium where they will face Blacktown City FC next Sunday in the Preliminary Final.
APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC: 1 (Murray 74’)
Rockdale City Suns: 1 (Urosevski 44’)
Sunday, July 13 2017
Lambert Park, Leichhardt
Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones
Assistant Referees: S Ho & R Osbourne
Fourth officials: T Plasto
APIA Leichhardt Tigers: 1. Ivan Necevski, 2. Nathan Milgate 4. Josh Symons, 7. Sean O’Connell (10. Franco Parisi 57’), 8. Corey Bizco, 11. Jordan Murray (9. Matthew West 85’), 13. David Dapuzzo, 16. Sean Symons, 17. Adrian Vlastelica, 19. Brandon Lundy, 20. Tasuku Sekiya (12. Dominic Cox 90’).
Substitutes: 22. Luke Turnbull, 3. Paul Galimi
Yellow Cards: O’Connell 9’, Dapuzzo 13’, Vlastelica 48’, Sekiya 60’
Red Cards: N/A
Rockdale City Suns: 22. Ante Covic, 2. Daniel Petkovski, 3. Steven Hesketh, 4. Trent McClenahan, 5. Paul Reid, 6. Blake Ricciuto, 7. Alec Urosevski (11. Jonathan Grozdanovski 78’), 8. Aleks Canak, 10. Harris Gaitatzis (12. Idriss El Hafiane 88’), 19. Daniel Saric, 23. Jordan Figon (14. Brayden Sorge 50’)
Substitutes: 1. David Bradasevic, 17. Toufic Alameddine
Yellow Cards: Hesketh 5’ 46’, Canak 10’, Ricciuto 60’
Red Cards: Hesketh 46’