Adrian Ucchino’s last-gasp strike earned APIA Leichhardt a crucial 2-1 victory over Premiership rivals Blacktown City at Lily Homes Stadium on Sunday Afternoon.
The Tigers midfielder rifled a long-range effort past Blacktown goalkeeper Tristan Prendergast in the final minute of regular time to hand Billy McColl’s side a priceless three points and move five points clear of their fellow title challengers.
Ucchino’s heroics book-ended a tense affair in Seven Hills that saw the two sides locked at 1-1 for much of the contest after Sean Symons had cancelled out an early Joey Gibbs penalty.
The Blacktown forward had a chance to bury a second spot kick 12 minutes before full time to hand the home side the advantage, but Gibbs’ effort was saved by APIA goalkeeper Ivan Necevski – leaving Ucchino to break City hearts late on.
Entering the top of the table clash without Charles Mendy, Danny Choi and Mitchell Mallia, many would have met the clash with APIA with trepidation despite the patchy form of the Tigers heading into the encounter.
The City trio have accounted for nearly half of Blacktown’s 20 league goals this season, but any sense of unease was quelled in the opening stages by Mark Crittenden’s side, who capped a purposeful start with Gibbs’ seventh goal of the season.
The former Western Sydney Wanderer was pulled down in the box by Necevski and powered the resulting spot kick down the middle, keeping up his excellent recent record against the Lambert Park outfit.
APIA levelled the scores courtesy of their captain midway through the half. Symons had earlier seen Grant Lynch clear a goalbound effort off the line, but the Tigers’ forward was not to be denied on this occasion, sweeping Tasuku Sekiya’s deflected cross home at the back post after a lovely foray forward.
Although City stalwart Tristan Prendergast was beaten on that occasion, the Blacktown number one enjoyed a series of fine saves to thwart golden boot leader Jordan Murray, who saw a succession of great chances go begging.
Murray would flash a header onto the roof of the net late in the first half, and drew two outstanding close range saves from Prendergast either side of the interval as the visitors began to assert their authority.
It just didn’t fall for the APIA frontman on the day, and opposing number Gibbs endured a similar afternoon despite breaking the deadlock earlier on. Gibbs had been well marshalled since that 12thminute strike and had seen a great chance from close range brush the post before his eventual penalty miss.
That occurred when Tigers fullback Nathan Millgate was penalised for handling Lynch’s cutback, but having bested Necevski earlier in the match the Blacktown forward saw his second spot kick parried as the APIA goalkeeper made a strong save to his left.
It appeared the Tigers number one had salvaged a point for the visitors, but McColl’s men seized all three in stunning fashion in the last kick of regular time, when a quickly taken free kick caught the City defence sleeping, leaving Ucchino to find the top corner from outside the box.
The manner of the late defeat stunned Blacktown City coach Mark Crittenden, who lamented a lack of ruthlessness from his charges, but remained optimistic ahead of the final stretch of the campaign.
“It was a bitter pill to swallow with the late goal, but I thought we did enough to earn a point in the end,” said the City coach.
“The boys played well, I can’t fault them – APIA are a very good side, a physical side. In the context of our premiership chances its a bit of a blow, but we have to remember last season we were in the lead by five or six points and ended up getting pipped at the end.
“There’s still a long way to go.”
Blacktown City 1 (Gibbs 12’)
APIA Leichhardt Tigers 2 (Symons 29’, Ucchino 90’)
Lily’s Football Centre, Seven Hills
Sunday 17th June 2018
Blacktown City: 1. Tristan Prendergast, 3. Giorgio Speranza, 4. Roberto Speranza, 5. Grant Lynch, 6. Matt Lewis, 7. Devante Clut, 8. Daniel Araujo, 9. Joey Gibbs, 10. Connor Evans (23. Daniel Bragg 66’), 19. Zac Cairncross, 22. Yianni Spyrakis
Substitutes not used: 17. Dakota Askew, 16. Mark Rodic, 20. Stevan Savicic, 18. Mason Versi
Yellow cards: Araujo 6’, Bragg 87’
Red cards: N/A
APIA Leichhardt Tigers: 1. Ivan Necevski, 2. Nathan Millgate, 4. Josh Symons (3. Paul Galimi 72’), 7. Howard Fondyke, 8. Corey Biczo (10. Franco Parisi 85’), 11. Jordan Murray, 15. Themba Muata-Marlow, 16. Sean Symons, 19. Brandon Lundy, 18. Adrian Uchinno, 20. Tasuku Sekiya
Substitutes not used: 13. David D’Apuzzo, 17. Sam Gulisano, 22. Blake Tuxford
Yellow cards: Lundy 74’, Millgate 82’, Ucchino 84’
Red cards: N/A
-By National Premier Leagues NSW reporter Jacob Windon.