Wollongong Wolves and Blacktown City FC were forced to share the spoils after an entertaining scoreless draw in their season opener at WIN Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
As far as goalless draws go this was an action packed match that in truth could have gone either way.
The Japanese duo of Yuzo Tashiro and Takuya Nozawa came closest to opening the scoring for the hosts while mercurial midfielder Mitch Mallia and co were repeatedly denied by Justin Pasfield’s heroics between the sticks.
Former Sydney FC youngster Daniel Araujo was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence in the second half, making way for an open final quarter hour that saw both goalkeepers produce quality saves to ensure the sides shared the spoils.
Wollongong Wolves went into the match seeking their first win over the visitors since 2010. Last season’s National Premier Leagues NSW Grand Final winners Blacktown City had other ideas as they pressed forward in search of an early advantage.
Wolves’ defence, expertly marshalled by Nick Montgomery, stood firm under pressure as they kept their opponents at arm’s length throughout a tense opening period.
Michael Robinson’s misplaced pass afforded Joey Gibbs an early opportunity. Pasfield began his fine performance with a crucial save to deny Gibbs before Robinson made up for his error to block Charles Mendy’s follow up.
Around the half hour mark Quivui Fowler carved out Wolves’ first quality chance of the match with a ball delicately floated over Blacktown City’s backline. Former Kashima Antlers attacker Tashiro controlled the ball well on his chest only to have his shot smothered by Tristan Prendergast.
With chances from open play hard to come by both teams began to create opportunities from dead ball situations with Nozawa striking the post with a free kick from 30 yards before Mallia’s rifled free kick was tipped over by Pasfield.
The ensuing corner found Giorgio Speranza on the edge of the box; the defender’s shot was deflected into the side netting by Fowler with Pasfield left unsighted and stranded.
Mallia threatened once again just before the interval with a well worked free-kick routine resulting in a shot curled over the bar from 20 yards.
After the restart Josh McDonald, fresh out of the National Youth System from Western Sydney Wanderers, almost caught Pendergast out with a cross that looked destined for the net. The visitor’s keeper may have momentarily lost the ball in the sun before recovering to tip it over the crossbar.
Gibbs curled a free kick wide around the hour mark before Pasfield denied Mallia once again with a diving save to tip a powerful effort away for a corner.
With a quarter of an hour left on the clock Araujo saw his second booking of the afternoon for a reckless challenge. Having already been booked in the first half for a late tackle the midfielder earned himself an inevitable early shower.
Substitute Mason Versi cut inside his marker to create a glorious chance for himself; Pasfield once again was equal to the task with an exceptional reflex save to cap off a fine afternoon.
Prendergast also made a hero of himself soon after. Tashiro connected with a looped ball that evaded Blacktown’s defence only be denied a late winner by the final save of the game.
Wollongong Wolves’ coach Jacob Timpano couldn’t help but feel they could have taken more than a point but appeared content with one against his formidable opponents.
“A point is a point,” said Timpano.
“The way the game did finish it’s a little disappointing we didn’t play more freely when they went down to ten men, but we probably had the chances to do so.
“Full credit to Blacktown, they held strong and they also had a couple of chances themselves so in the end it’s a fair result on the balance of the game.
“With some new players within the squad it’ll obviously take a little bit of time to adjust but I thought we were fairly well structured and disciplined which is what we’ve been working on in pre season. There’s a lot of positives to take from today.”
Blacktown City FC manager Mark Crittenden was also content with his side’s performance away from home.
“I was really happy with the way we played to be fair,” remarked Crittenden.
“I don’t think they created too many chances on goal – they certainly had a bit of possession – but when you come down here it’s a big pitch with a lot of open space so I thought we set up well.
“Probably the only thing we didn’t get today was a goal. I thought the boys did well towards the end with a one-man disadvantage and to still look for a winner with Pasfield pulling off a great save while we were down to ten.
“Credit to the boys; we weren’t going to shut up shop and we pushed for the winner so to come away with a point is a little disappointing to be honest.”
Crittenden also took time to praise his new players after their successful recruiting in the off-season.
“It’s important to try and bring the right kind of people into your squad and we believe we’ve done that,” said Crittenden.
“We’ve got some new faces that are good boys, good footballers, and just generally good lads as well which makes it easy to fit in.
“It was a good start for them, we’ll go away with a point and look forward to United (Sydney United 58 FC) away from home next week.”
Wollongong Wolves 0
Blacktown City FC 0
Sunday 11th March, 2018
WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Assistant Referees: M McOrist R Osboure
Wollongong Wolves: 1.Justin Pasfield; 4.Michael Robinson, 5.James Baldacchino, 6.Nick Montgomery, 7.Chris Price, 8.Takuya Nozawa, 10 .Joshua McDonald, 11.Quivui Fowler (9.Peter Simonoski 58’), 17.Ryan Ensor, 28.Michael Stojanovski (5.Taylor McDonald 19’), 30.Yuzo Tashiro
Substitutes Not Used: 23. Steve Hayes, 12 Luke Kairies, 14. Kambisios
Yellow Cards: Ryan Ensor 39’
Red Cards: nil
Blacktown City FC: 1. Tristan Prendergast; 3. Giorgio Speranza, 4. Roberto Speranza, 5. Grant Lynch, 6. Matt Lewis (7.Devante Clut 65’), 8. Daniel Araujo, 9.Joey Gibbs, 10.Connor Evans, 12.Charles Mendy (18.Mason Versi 74’) , 14. Mitch Mallia (19.Zac Cairncross 81’), 22. Yiannis Spyrakis
Substitutes Not Used: 20.Steven Savicic, 23.Daniel Bragg
Yellow Cards: Daniel Araujo 26’
Red Cards: Daniel Araujo 75’
3 – Justin Pasfield (WW)
2 – Connor Evans (BC)
1 – Nick Montgomery (WW)
-By National Premier Leagues NSW Mens reporter Michael Shoolman