Sydney United secured a share of the early leadership in the National Soccer League on September 28, as they came from behind to down the Football Kingz 2-1 at Edensor Park in a match which saw a staggering eight minutes of injury time added at the end of the second half.
The visitors hit the ground running, Jeff Campbell sending a twenty-yarder flashing past Liam Reddyıs left-hand post inside the first sixty seconds. But despite dominating the early exchanges with their possession play, and frustrating their opponents in the process, the Kingz lacked the necessary penetration to give United too many causes for concern in what panned out as a decidedly dour first forty-five minutes.
Many of the visitorsı promising attacks foundered on wayward passing, while the home team, when they raided, frequently fell foul of the offside trap, and come the half-time whistle, were found guilty as charged of failing to muster a single shot on goal of any consequence in the entire period, coming closest to breaking this boast in stoppage time, when debutant Kingz goalkeeper Ross Nicholson saved at the feet of the lively Zeljko Babic.
Aside from their first minute effort, the Kingz managed just two more shots of note in the first spell, both of which boasted the stamp of class Harry Ngata adds to the team in their creation.
The first attempt, in the 39th minute, owed much to the strikerıs deft work on the right. New Norwegian midfield recruit Aleksandr Midtsian fired this volleyed opportunity over the top, then turned provider two minutes later, crossing for Ngata, who laid the ball back to Campbell. The midfielderıs shot was deflected to safety by Joe Vrkic.
What the first half lacked in meritorious moments, the second spell more than made up for - whatever was in the half-time tea could well be the footballing equivalent of the eleven secret herbs and spices which make up Colonel Sanderıs recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken!!
Babic hinted at what was to come when forcing a save from Nicholson three minutes into the half, but what really triggered the upturn in spectator appeal was a goal in the 52nd minute.
Chris Jackson slipped Midtsian through the inside left channel, and his cross on the stretch, aimed for Ngata, was diverted into his own net by the retreating Michael Cunico, who could only despair at the sight of his attempted clearance flying wide of Reddy.
Ironically, conceding the goal proved to be the catalyst for Sydney United to throw off the shackles and come out to play, although the introduction of attack-minded substitute, the free-spirited Anthony Doumanis, in the 55th minute was an important part in the turn-round in fortunes which soon followed.
For within ten minutes of conceding a goal, United had scored two at the right end of the park. The first, in the 58th minute, came about following the clumsiest of challenges by Kingz defender John Tambouras. Matthew Langdon couldnıt believe his luck - the free-kick was right on the edge of the penalty area, and it was from there that he directed the ball over the wall and into the top left-hand corner of Nicholsonıs goal - 1-1.
Four minutes later, Mark Rudan robbed Jackson of possession deep inside Unitedıs half and surged forward before laying the ball into Doumanisı path. Spotting the cleverly angled run of Babic ahead of him, the playmaker produced a made-to-measure pass into his team-mateıs stride, and the striker swept a low cross into the near post area. Arriving on cue was Antoni Zmire, who lashed the ball home from the edge of the goal area to turn the game on its head.
The Kingz were suddenly all over the place defensively, and United wasted no time in exploiting their opponentsı exposed frailties. Dean Heffernanıs long throw-in wasnıt cleared by either Tambouras or Espen Schjerven, the latter spared the embarrassment of marking his debut with an own goal by a quite spectacular full-stretch fingertip save from Nicholson in the 64th minute.
Seconds later, the Norwegian stopper made amends, somehow scrambling clear as Zmire looked to score his second goal of the game. Then in the 67th minute, Doumanis caught Glen Collins in possession and quickly sent Babic scurrying through. With the advancing Nicholson the only obstacle, the striker shot early, but inaccurately, the ball flying wide of the mark.
The Kingz offered a brief instance of resistance in the 69th minute, when Campbell, breaking down the left at pace - an attribute which the visitorsı attacks all too rarely boasted - produced a splendid delivery to the far post for Ngata, whose bullet-like header flashed a foot wide of Reddyıs left-hand upright.
United responded four minutes later, through a Langdon corner. His delivery found Zmire lurking in the penalty area, but the strikerıs shot on the turn was magnificently saved by former All White custodian Nicholson.
The goalkeeperıs all-round performance, in the absence of the injured regular number one Michael Utting, confirmed one thing about this Kingz squad - the last line of defence is not going to give them too much cause for concern this season. (Doubtless some Kingz fans are frustrated they canıt say the same about the occupants of the ten outfield positions!!)
Jason Rowleyıs timely tackle thwarted the in-full-flight substitute Tolgay Ozbey thirteen minutes from time, but with five minutes of running time remaining, the second half replacement blotted his copybook somewhat with a vicious flying lunge on Tambouras.
Referee Ben Williams didnıt hesitate, and out came the first red card of the NSL season, with the Kingz defender requiring a fair few moments of attention before hobbling back into the fray.
It was this incident which contributed the bulk of the eight minutes of injury time which this match required. In that time, Doumanis produced a moment of magic to evade the challenges of two defenders before rifling a shot at goal, the pace of which was too quick for Nicholson, who was relieved to see the ball cannon to safety off the inside of his right-hand post.
United werenıt troubled in holding onto their 2-1 win, however, one which takes them to the top of the table at this early stage of the campaign. Towards the other end of the standings, the Football Kingz have started the season in a manner which they will want to arrest in fairly short order - two defeats from as many matches is not the sort of start which the oft-under-performed Kiwi team would have hoped for.