Rockdale City Suns has scraped into the 2018 National Premier Leagues NSW finals series after a 2-2 draw with Sydney FC at Ilinden Sports Centre on Sunday.
A brace from Rockdale’s Jonathan Grozdanovski helped the side to a 2-1 lead at the half-time break, before a 91st minute equaliser from Sydney’s Jeremy Cox levelled the scores.
Despite coming away from the match with only a point, it was enough for Paul Reid’s side to secure a top five finish thanks to Wollongong’s 3-0 thrashing of Marconi Stallions.
Sydney FC finish the season on the bottom of the ladder but have secured their safety in the NSW top flight for another season by their overall performance on the Club Championship ladder.
Rockdale will next week take on fourth placed Blacktown City in the first elimination final.
Heading into the match needing to better the result of Marconi, Rockdale immediately took the initiate, going up within the opening two minutes through Jonathan Grozdanovski.
Rockdale’s Alec Urosevski started the attacking play for the hosts as he set up Harris Gaitatzis who fired an effort at Sydney gloveman Duro Dragicevic.
However, Dragicevic was unable to control the shot and the ball fell directly into the path of Grozdanovski who tapped home to fire Rockdale into the lead.
Sydney managed to level the scores in the 13th minute through Jerry Skotadis.
Skotadis initiated the play with a ball to Jeremy Cox before receiving the ball back in front of goal and firing past the keeper.
The hosts had a golden chance to take the lead in the 29th minute through an Alec Urosevski free-kick, but the winger fired his effort just over the bar after it deflected off the wall.
Rockdale reclaimed the lead eight minutes later thanks once again to Grozdanovski.
The striker claimed his second of the afternoon through a moment of individual brilliance.
Grozdanovski received the ball just outside the Sydney FC box before working his way through two defenders and firing an effort into the bottom right corner to give his side a 2-1 lead at the interval.
Despite sitting at the foot of the NPL NSW ladder, Sydney FC were refusing to lie down.
Giancarlo Italiano’s Sydney side came out in the second half with new found energy and an eye for goal.
The Young Sky Blues came agonisingly close to levelling the scores in the 52nd minute after a cross from Skotadis found the head of Cox but he couldn’t keep his effort down.
Four minutes later Sydney had another golden opportunity to equalise through a well placed shot from Brendan Curtis, but Ante Covic was more than equal to it with an acrobatic save.
Rockdale tried to turn the tables and pushed for a third goal.
In the 88th minute Grozdanovski was put through on goal but a sprawling save from Dragicevic stopped the Rockdale front man from his hat trick.
With Rockdale confident that they had done enough for victory as the clock ticked into added time, Sydney FC had one last trick up their sleeve.
A great ball into the box from Skotadis on the left wing found Cox who tapped home an equaliser at the death.
Rockdale City Suns player-coach Paul Reid was disappointed to not claim all three points but was relieved his side was able to secure finals football.
“We should have killed it off before they equalised,” he said.
“At half time we saw Marconi were struggling in their game but I was stressing to the players that we need to do everything to win our game so we control our own fate.
“It’s obviously disappointing to concede late on, we had numerous chances to go 3-1 ahead but at the end of the day our aim was to get into the finals.
“[Blacktown] are always tight encounters, we played them in the finals series last year, so we know what each other are all about and it’s going to be a really good game.”
Meanwhile, Sydney FC coach Giancarlo Italiano was pleased with the performance put in by the side, noting that he was pleased with how some of the elder members of the squad played.
“It was a great performance all round, for a large part of the match we created numerous amounts of chances, especially in the first half,” he said.
“I thought our structure was good, we played very well [but] the second half when it opened up a little bit, we chased the game. Rockdale hit us on the counter a couple of times but our keeper was outstanding.
“It was good to see some of the older boys in the last year eligible for 20s contributing for the draw and it was well deserved.”
By National Premier Leagues Reporter Cal Behrendt