It was a winning start for Miro Vlastelica as Sydney United 58 defeated Blacktown City FC by a 1-0 scoreline at Lily Homes Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The new coach’s first match at the helm resulted in three valuable points thanks to a decisive early goal from Matt Sim.
The result narrows third-placed Blacktown’s lead over United, reducing the gap from a daunting seven points to a hope-instilling four as teams begin to jostle for positions as we push into the back half of the 2018 NPL NSW Men’s season.
The visitors began the game brightest, quickly and patiently moving possession around in search of weaknesses in Blacktown’s armour.
The added spring in the United’s step soon led to the early opener for Sim.
A brilliant solo run saw Panny Nikas slalom his way past several Blacktown players, drawing the hosts’ defence out of shape before feeding Patrick Antelmi, who then teed up the unmarked Sim to tuck the ball away inside the near post.
The goal briefly brought Blacktown into life as they drew a foul from and booking out of Adrian Vlastelica on the edge of the box, yet Danny Choi sent his free kick well over to sum up a frustrating opening period for Mark Crittenden’s men.
United continued to move the ball around well to deny their opponents quality possession while also twice going close to doubling their advantage through the right foot of Chris Payne.
The former Sydney FC attacker first caught Tristan Prendergast off his line with shot from halfway that bounced just wide of goal, sparing the keeper’s blushes, before flashing a curled effort just wide of the far post minutes later.
Blacktown began to create some fluidity from the half hour mark as they hunted for a way back into the match.
They went close when Devante Clut fed a quality ball through to Mitch Mallia, however the linesman’s flag ruled the run out for offside before he knocked the ball wide of goal.
As the hosts grew in stature United still continued to threaten, particularly from range as Nikas crashed an audacious dipping free kick against the crossbar from 30-yards.
The playmaker again asserted his dominance in the closing stages of the half, testing Prendergast with a drive from outside the box which bounced off the keeper and into the path of Sim; the winger buried the follow up only to be denied by an offside flag.
Having trailed at the interval Blacktown emerged from the sheds for the second half with greater intent as the begun to move the ball around with higher intensity.
Despite their best efforts Blacktown were let down by stray balls in the final third, and were again forced to cling on to any hopes of a revival thanks to some brave goalmouth scrambling.
United continued to efficiently pick away at their opponents and were perhaps unlucky not to put the match to bed around the hour mark as Prendergast denied both Sim and Antelmi with a pair of spectacular diving saves in the space of a single minute.
Blacktown would have to dig deep to salvage anything from the match, turning as they often do to Mallia.
The Maltese warrior first headed wide across goal from a Connor Evans free kick before firing into the arms of Thomas Manos following a driving inside run from the right flank.
Mark Crittenden looked to breathe more life into his attack with the injection of Daniel Bragg and Charles Mendy; the move almost paid immediate dividends as the latter surged down the left before cutting the back for the unmarked Clut who sent a golden opportunity over the crossbar.
As Blacktown looked more likely to equalise, United became more physical in their defending, haemorrhaging yellow cards as they broke up play in the latter stages of the match to hold on for the three points.
New coach Miro Vlastelica was proud of his side as they grabbed an important win from one of the league’s toughest grounds.
“Definitely happy, and also for the boys,” said Vlastelica.
“They’ve worked hard all week and the effort they put out their today reflected what they’ve put in throughout the week.
“Today they worked very hard and deserved their win against a very organised Blacktown side.
“What we’ve said to the boys in our meetings throughout the week was to just keep our game simple, keep moving the ball and the opposition, and that’s exactly what they did.”
With the Vlastelica era up and running in positive fashion, United plan to take things one match at a time as they seek to shake off the inconsistency that plagued the first half of their season.
“We’re taking it a week at a time,” explained Vlastelica.
“We prepare now for next week and will take things one match at a time.
“We set ourselves targets every week, and all else I can ask from them is to work hard and put in a good shift week in week out.”
Blacktown City coach Mark Crittenden was left to lament his side’s slow opening period which left them with an uphill struggle for the remainder of the match.
“It was probably our worth opening ten minutes for a long time,” said Crittenden.
“I don’t know if it was a hangover from Wednesday (midweek FFA Cup loss to Rockdale City Suns) or whatever else but we let them really dictate the game and it really hurt as they put on in the back of the net.
“I thought we slowly worked out way into it – their first half was very good – but we had a chat at half time and reiterated a few things we needed to do better and I thought the second half was much improved.
“I was a pretty entertaining game to be fair, both sides played some nice football and our first time minutes, which was poor, hurt us in the end.”
With their lead over fourth-placed Sydney United 58 now down to four points Crittenden remains confident his side will bounce back at they keep themselves well in contention for yet another appearance in finals football.
“It’s only early in the second round,” said Crittenden.
“There’s a long way to go in this league.
“As I said at the start of the year I thought it would be a very tight league where each week there’ll be upsets and a tough week every week and it’s been looking that way.
“I think the table is a very interesting one at the moment and each week there’s results that tip it one way or the other.
“You just have to worry about yourself, not watch what anyone else is doing, just make sure you look at how you’re performing.”
Blacktown City FC 0
Sydney United 58 1 (Matt Sim 11’)
Sunday 20th May, 2018
Lily Homes Stadium, Seven Hills
Referee: A. Arndt
Assistants: L. Greenshields & N. Wotton
4th Official: C. Hughes
Blacktown City FC: 1. Tristan Prendergast; 3. Giorgio Speranza, 4. Roberto Speranza (18. Mason Versi 85’), 6. Matthew Lewis, 8. Daniel Araujo (12. Charles Mendy 70’), 7. Devante Clut, 9. Joey Gibbs, 10. Connor Evans, 11. Danny Choi (23. Daniel Bragg 70’), 14. Mitchell Mallia, 22. Yianni Spyrakis
Substitutes not used:, 16. Mark Rodic, 20. Stevan Savicic
Yellow Cards: Danny Choi 45’
Red Cards: nil
Sydney United 58 FC: 21. Thomas Manos; 2. Cristian Gonzalez, 3. Jordan Roberts, 4. Adrian Vlastelica, 6. Christopher Payne (13. Sam Perre 90’), 8. Matthew Sim, 9. Patrick Antelmi (15. Tareq Myir 82’), 11. Yianni Perkatis, 18. Glen Trifiro, 22. Yianni Fragogiannis, 23. Panagiotis Nikas
Substitutes not used: 1. John Hall, 7. Naim Rahimi, 16. Kyle Cimenti,
Yellow Cards: Adrian Vlastelica 14’, Yianni Pertakis 45’ +1, Jordan Roberts 75’, Glen Trifiro 80’, Chris Payne 83’
Red Cards: nil
-By National Premier Leagues NSW reporter Michael Shoolman