Returning star Luke Wilkshire was the saviour for Wollongong Wolves as they fought back to clinch a 1-1 draw against Blacktown City at Lily Homes Stadium on Sunday.
Wilkshire scored his first goal for the Wolves since making his return to the club where he made his breakthrough to deny Blacktown a vital three points.
Joey Gibbs had the home side in the box seat when he hit the back of the net on the 40 minute mark to give his side a 1-0 lead.
However, Blacktown was unable to kill off the fixture and paid the price when the former Socceroos World Cup star struck after 61 minutes to secure a point for a resurgent Wolves.
The result proved costly for Blacktown as Mark Crittenden’s side missed the chance to cut the gap to the top of the table with Sydney Olympic and APIA Leichhardt Tigers both suffering shock defeats..
The first real chance of the game arrived in the 14th minute when Blacktown’s Devante Clut placed a cross into the middle for Gibbs who could only volley over the crossbar.
It was Gibbs again in the 23rd minute with a half chance for Blacktown City, but his free-kick from just outside the box finished safely in the hands of Wollongong goalkeeper Justin Pasfield.
Blacktown City had another neat chance in the 31st minute when a long ball forward by Clut reached Mitchell Mallia in the box but his double chance was thwarted; firstly by Ryan Ensor who got down low to block and then by ‘keeper Pasfield who held his second attempt neatly above his head.
The home side did take the lead though in the 40th minute when Gibbs netted from close range. It was originally a sharp free-kick from the right by Danny Choi who, unexpectedly, went straight for goal and Ensor cleared off the line, but the ball wasn’t put to bed and eventually it reached Gibbs who fired home.
Right at the end of the first stanza of play Wollongong Wolves had their best chance when a dangerous, long cross from the right by Michael Stojanovski forced the home custodian Tristan Prendergast into an alert save just off his line.
In the second half, in the 50th minute, a quick flowing phase of play saw Clut thread the ball to Choi who, from close range, fired into the side netting when really he should have done a lot better from such a great position.
A few minutes later and Blacktown City were at it again when a nice run by Yianni Spyrakis on the right flank saw him place a cross into the middle for Gibbs who delightfully played it back for Clut, but his attempt was blocked by a brave Pasfield down low at his feet.
In the 57th minute a dangerous left foot free-kick from Choi forced Pasfield to tip the ball over the crossbar as it was certainly destined for the top corner of the net.
However, despite Blacktown City’s plethora of chances it was Wollongong who levelled the ledger in the 61st minute. Luke Wilkshire’s free-kick went straight into the wall but as luck would have it there was a rebound straight back to him and the former Socceroo defender with a neat volley beat Prendergast at his near post.
It was really a goal out of nothing but one that brought Wollongong right back into the contest.
In the 86th minute a wonderful piece of play by Wollongong almost paid dividends when Stojanovski cut the ball back for substitute Takuya Nozawa, but the former J-League star fired just over the intended target from a very central position.
Right at the death Blacktown could have scored the definitive winner when Mallia played to the ball to Gibbs who then found an unmarked Mason Versi on the left, but the substitute’s diagonal rocket sailed narrowly over the goal much to the frustration of the home fans.
After the game Blacktown City’s coach Mark Crittenden was realistic about what had happened during the course of play.
“I thought that we dominated the first half and in the first ten minutes of the second half we had two really good chances to win,” he said.
“We didn’t take those chances and the momentum turned a little bit after they scored from a set piece. It was one of those games then at 1-1 and it was in the balance and probably could have gone either way, so disappointing and probably two points dropped.”
However, his opposite number Jacob Timpano too was thinking that two points may have been conceded.
“They [Blacktown] probably out shaded us a little bit in the first half but we were still quite comfortable as they didn’t have any real clear-cut chances,” he said.
“Our plan at half time was to stick tight and we knew that we would get an opportunity. Once we scored the goal, we dominated the rest of the match and we had some good chances to score. In end, I am happy with the draw and it is still probably a fair result.”
Blacktown City FC: 1 (Gibbs 40’)
Wollongong Wolves: 1 (Wilkshire 61’)
Sunday, May 27th 2018
Lily Homes Stadium, Seven Hills
Referee: Katie Patterson
Assistant Referees: R. Osborne, H. White
Fourth Official: N. Farmer
BLACKTOWN CITY FC: 1. Tristan Prendergast, 3. Giorgio Speranza, 5. Grant Lynch, 7. Devante Clut, 8. Daniel Araujo (6. Matthew Lewis 80’), 9. Joey Gibbs, 10. Connor Evans, 11. Danny Choi (18. Mason Versi 85’), 14. Mitchell Mallia, 19. Zachary Cairncross, 22. Yianni Spyrakis (4. Roberto Speranza 76’).
Substitutes not used: 20. Stevan Savicic, 23. Daniel Bragg
Yellow Cards: Mallia 43’, Choi 44’, Carirncross 60’, Spyrakis 70’, Lynch 82’
Red Cards: Nil
WOLLONGONG WOLVES FC: 1. Justin Pasfield, 3. Darcy Madden, 4. Michael Robinson, 7. Christopher Price, 8. Brendan Griffin, 9. Peter Simonoski, 17. Ryan Ensor (10. Joshua Macdonald 61’), 23. Steven Hayes (40. Takuya Nozawa 73’), 26. Luke Wilkshire, 28. Michael Stojanovski, 30. Yuzo Tashiro.
Substitutes not used: 5. James Baldacchino, 14. Etahn Kambosios, 16. Lukle Kairies
Yellow Cards: Ensor 38’, Price 56’, Pasfield 92’
Red Card: Nil
Player Ratings have now been hidden due to the second half of the season commencing.
-By National Premier Leagues NSW reporter Joe Russo