The Football Kingz have, at long last, chalked up a win in the 2003-4 National Soccer League competition, and were fully deserving of it at a rain-slicked Ericsson Stadium on November 23.
An indisciplined Marconi Stallions combination were once again the unwilling victims of the New Zealand combination, the visitorsı record of never having beaten the Kingz outside Australia being upheld by virtue of a 3-1 victory for the home team, for whom this was a first win on home soil since December 6, 2002, and a first win full stop since March 7 this year.
How they earned it - an ³in-your-face² performance which frustrated the third-placed visitors, and ultimately led to their receiving five bookings - a tally which could have been greater - for various indiscretions from referee Derek Rugg, with whom the visitors were far from amused, for reasons known only to themselves.
Perhaps they should first look in the mirror before directing their anger at officialdom, for they did not play at all like a team lying four points off the lead going into this encounter. Indeed, to a neutral observer, it was the bottom-placed Kingz combination which looked more worthy of the term title contenders.
The home team was tentative to begin with, and Marconi werenıt slow in playing on their understandable nervousness, going close to opening the scoring with the first attack of any significance in the ninth minute. Only an outstanding reflex save from fit-again goalkeeper Michael Utting kept the Kingz on level terms, as Joe Spiteri stole in behind the defence onto a cleverly flighted Luke Casserly pass.
Talk about red rag to a bull, however! That was the cue for the Kingz to charge downfield, forcing Marconi onto the back foot to such an extent that the home team grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and never relinquished their grip - that they were going to win this match was never in doubt from that moment!
For eight minutes, the Kingz laid siege to Michael Turnbullıs goal, but the keeper stood his ground well. Jason Rowleyıs cross for Paul Harries found the goalkeeper charging out to grab it, but he totally misjudged the flight of the ball, only to recover the situation well when snatching Harriesı header from the sky as it soared over him towards the top corner of the net in the tenth minute.
Seconds later, Alex Midtsianıs flighted pass to Jeff Campbell saw him head the ball through to Mark Burton - one of his best games in a Kingz shirt in many a month! The advancing Turnbull forced him to shoot early and wide of the near post, but the alarm bells were still ringing in the Marconi defence soon afterwards, when set-piece specialist Midtsian delivered a corner to the far post.
There lurked John Tambouras, whose unchallenged diving header arrowed towards the goal, but found the legs of Turnbull in the one place the Kingz defender didnıt want them to be, not that the goalkeeper himself knew much about where he was in relation to the ball!
More Kingz pressure followed, Harries central to all of it. First, he headed over the bar after Campbell and Midtsian had prised open the visitorsı right flank once more. Then Turnbull punched a Campbell cross off the head of the targetman, who was denied seconds later by Brendan Renaud, the midfielder heading the strikerıs shot off the line following another accurate corner from Harriesı Norwegian team-mate.
Some reward for their efforts had to be forthcoming for the Kingz, and in the 29th minute, their hard work paid dividends. Campbell took the corner this time, and swung it towards the far post once more.
This time, the ball arced over Turnbull and his defence, and found Tambouras lurking beyond the upright, from where he angled a superb header back at goal. Despite their best efforts to disguise the fact, Marconiıs defenders couldnıt deny that the ball had crossed the line before their attempts to scramble it clear had borne fruit, and the Kingz, much to the delight of their 1410 faithful followers, were on the board, and deservedly so.
Within five minutes, however, they could have undone all their hard work thanks to a couple of lapses. And while Nick Carleıs twenty-five yard grasscutter straight from the kick-off was wayward, the opening afforded Jeromy Harris in the 34th minute was the sort of chance which any striker worth their salt should bury with their eyes closed.
Dominic Longo and Renaud combined with Spiteri on the left, the last-mentioned darting between two defenders before lifting the ball beyond sweeper Mauro Donoso to the far post. There lurked Harris, but only he will be able to explain how, with Utting beaten and the goal at his mercy, he snatched at a golden opportunity to level the scores and sliced it wide from four yards out on the angle - it was an awful miss!!
Spiteri spurned a chance soon after under pressure from Tambouras, the defender then denying Harris three minutes before the interval after Casserly and Spiteri had combined to create the opening.
In between times, only superb work by Turnbull prevented the Kingz from doubling their advantage five minutes out from the break. Midtsian held the ball up well on the right, and the first to arrive in support was Burton. His intelligent pass split the defence and left Harry Ngata through on goal with just the keeper to beat, but the advancing Turnbull produced a splendid stop at point-blank range to thwart the home team.
The teams left the pitch for half-time with Marconi players berating referee Rugg for what they considered to be a clear-cut challenge from behind on Spiteri near the edge of the penalty area by Espen Schjerven not that the official could have done anything about it given the half-time whistle had been blown. But it set the tone for what was to follow
Initially, Marconi channelled their aggression in the right manner - pounding away at the Kingz defence in an effort to get back on level terms. But a stunning save from Utting apart - the goalkeeper reacted superbly to turn a teasing Renaud cross to safety after it had been missed by all-comers - the local rearguard repelled everything that Marconi could muster, adding further to the visitorsı frustration.
On the hour, Carle let fly with a piledriver after substitutes Eric Anabalon and Todd Brodie had combined on the right. But the sight of the goalbound ball striking the back of the unfortunate Harris just about summed up Marconiıs afternoon and when Angelo Costanzo blazed a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area after surging upfield to join in a 65th minute raid, that it was not to be their day was becoming more and more apparent.
Confirmation that this was the case came a minute later, when the visitorsı protests - even though justified on this occasion - were waved away by referee Rugg, who signalled the Kingz second goal of the afternoon.
Campbellıs lofted ball forward had been headed clear by Simon Bell against the arm of Kingz substitute Tallan Martin. The ball ricocheted to the strikerıs advantage, and he wasted little time in scooting between Bell and ball and burying a beauty beyond Turnbull.
Marconi were raging - there was no doubt that, despite it being a case of ball to hand, an unfair advantage had been gained by Martin, so a defensive free-kick was warranted. But on this occasion, a second goal was awarded instead, and the game was as good as over as a contest.
Within seconds of the second goal, only a timely tackle by Bell prevented Harries from making it 3-0 to the Kingz, but after Carle and Burton had exchanged shots on goal, thatıs what the scoreline read eleven minutes from time.
And how! Costanzoıs sly elbowing of Harries didnıt escape the attentions of referee Rugg, who duly awarded the free-kick just outside the penalty area and administered due punishment to the offender.
After calm had been restored, Midtsian stepped up and swept home a snorter - a peach of a free-kick which curled round the defensive wall and didnıt stop rising until it crashed into the top right-hand corner of Turnbullıs net, the diving goalkeeperıs arms clutching at the slipstream!
There was no way back now for Marconi, but to their credit, they pounded away in search of a consolation goal, with Carle forcing a save from Ross Nicholson, who came on as a substitute for Utting soon after the Kingz had gone 3-0 up. The replacement goalkeeper was relieved to see Anabalonıs twenty-yard drive flash narrowly past his right-hand post seven minutes from time, but with two minutes to go, the visitors were gifted a penalty.
Carleıs pass through to Anabalon never reached its intended target, thanks to the intervention of a wayward Kingz defenderıs hand. There were no protests as the referee pointed to the penalty spot, from where Carle found the net, despite Nicholsonıs despairing attempt to ensure the home team kept their first clean sheet of the season.
A fine save by Nicholson prevented Renaudıs thunderous twenty-five yard drive - the last kick of the game - reducing the Kingz margin of victory still further, but they were excellent value for their 3-1 win, and the sheer elation evident in the camp as they celebrated this triumph showed just how much it meant to them to record their first win of the campaign, and an all-too-rare home win to boot.