A sensational late fightback from APIA Leichhardt saw the Tigers strike twice in the final ten minutes to defeat Sydney FC 2-1 in their semi-final clash at Cromer Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Sky Blues opened the scoring inside five minutes through Jerry Skotadis and looked destined to cruise to victory early on but were left stunned as APIA equalized through Samuel Paslis in the 81st minute and booked their Grand Final ticket via Samuel Gulisano in the last minute of normal time.
The victory is the Tigers’ first win over Sydney in four attempts this campaign with the side heavily beaten 3-0 and 4-0 in their previous two meetings.
Franco Consentino’s outfit will now play Premiers Sutherland Sharks in next Sunday’s Grand Final at Leichhardt Oval and enter the game with considerable momentum given the spectacular nature of their comeback.
Consentino’s side were on the back foot in the matches opening stages in went behind in the fifth minute when Skotadis lashed an effort past APIA gloveman Luke Turnball inside the box.
Skotadis led the line in the absence of leading scorer John Iredale who joined Eredivisie outfit SC Heerenveen earlier in the week and enjoyed great success spearheading the attack alongside Samuel Mcillhatton and Ben Koop who came close to doubling the lead on two occasions.
Sydney will lament their failure to capitalize on their dominance in the first third of the encounter and had goalkeeper Duro Dragicevic to thank after a sensational series of saves to keep APIA out in the second half.
The Sky Blues custodian denied Paslis and Jordan Morfitis before making a superb smothering block to prevent Nicholas Chymiak from tapping home and offered another outstanding one on one reflex save to keep out a close range effort from Dominion Nasrabadi.
Robert Stanton’s side should’ve sealed the match when substitute Cooper Coskerie volleyed over Mcillhatton’s cross from underneath the bar and were eventually punished when Paslis squeezed the ball home after a scrap in the box ten minutes from full time.
APIA could’ve gone ahead soon after when Aedon Kyra muscled through but failed to round Dragecevic, but the Tigers ensured they will join the first team in next Sunday’s Grand Final day when Gulisano ran on to Kyra’s flick and slotted past Dragecevic with a minute remaining.
Sydney FC (Skotadis 5’)
APIA Leichhardt Tigers (Paslis 80’, Gulisano 89’)
Sunday 2nd of September 2017
Sydney FC: 29. Aaron Avery (68. Marco Tilio 70’), 28. Finn Ballard Mcbride (33. Guiseppe Tilio 61’), 36. Daniel Blachura, 31. Paolo Bonnani, 30. Duro Dragicevic, 35. Alex Gollan, 25. Benjamin Koop (27. Cooper Coskerie 70’), 15. Sam Mcillhatton, 34. Jerry Skotadis, 24. Nikola Ujdur, 32. Harry Van Der Saag
Substitutes Not Used: 13. Leonardo Malfara
Yellow Cards: Avery 64’, Bonnani 76’
Red Cards: N/A
APIA Leichhardt Tigers: 56. Gino Cerasoli, 27. Nicholas Chymiak, 23. Matthew Cook, 38. Samuel Gulisano, 25. Aedon Kyra (53. Matthew Taverniti 90+3’), 31. Jordan Morfitis, 37. Dominion Nasrabadi, 39. Samuel Paslis, 41. Zander Regan, 30. Rainer Smahel, 22. Luke Turnbull
Substitutes Not Used: 42. Nicholas Azzone, 26. Christian Theuma, 50. Zane Hickman, 55. Cameron Ward
Yellow Cards: N/A
Red Cards: N/A
–By Jacob Windon