Sydney FC and APIA Leichhardt Tigers return to Cromer Park on Saturday with the victor set to face Premiers Sutherland Sharks in next weekend’s Grand Final.
Two sides finished third and second respectively after strong campaigns and met a fortnight earlier when the Sky Blues extended a favourable record against the Tigers this season with a 3-0 win.
Earlier in the year Sydney defeated APIA 4-0 in the final match of David Zdrilic’s tenure following a 2-2 draw between the pair back in round six.
Despite entering the do or die encounter on the back of an extra time defeat to Sutherland and with poorer form overall than their Lambert Park counterparts, Sydney FC will be considered narrow favourites given both their excellent record over APIA and the impact of captain Samuel Mcillhatton and chief goalscorer John Iredale, who have returned to the side in the past two weeks to superb effect.
As a result Sydney FC are beginning to return to their strongest possible eleven and with the likes of Finn Ballard Mcbride, Guiseppe Tilio and Jerry Skodatis – whose set piece threat will prove dangerous for APIA – all hitting a strong patch of form in recent times the Sky Blues will be a difficult proposition for the Tigers.
Franco Consentino’s side delivered some of their best performances of the season at the back end of the regular campaign and recovered from their 3-0 loss to Sydney FC by eliminating Sydney United 58 in last Saturday’s minor semi-final.
The Tigers will have to overturn a poor recent history against Sydney but have enough firepower to ensure they accompany the first team on Grand Final day next fortnight.
APIA forward Aedon Kyra has put forward a strong claim for player of the honours after guiding his side to 18 goals in 24 appearances while partner in crime Jordan Morfitis has also made a significant attacking contribution and netted 11 goals throughout the year.
Should Consentino’s men offer a disciplined and organised defensive performance the Tigers will no doubt back themselves to outgun the Sky Blues and secure a date with Sutherland in the Grand Final. But with just one clean sheet in their last 13 matches APIA will need to muster their best collective effort of the year to keep dreams of another trophy alive.
Sydney FC v APIA Leichhardt Tigers, 2.30pm at Cromer Park
-By Jacob Windon