Sydney United enjoyed the greater share of possession and territory, but failed to convert it into anything more than an uninspiring but nonetheless deserved 1-0 victory over a Football Kingz combination reduced to ten men for the bulk of the second half at Ericsson Stadium on December 19.
Defender Glen Collins was sent off for his second bookable offence in the 52nd minute, which, added to the home teamıs loss of fellow rearguard man John Tambouras with a head injury ten minutes earlier, meant the visitors had a great chance to improve their less-than-a-goal-per-game average against the National Soccer Leagueıs bottom-placed side.
Instead, they seemed content to sit on their 1-0 advantage, and duly did against a side whose most inspired performers were seasoned campaigners Harry Ngata and Chris Jackson. Both ran their legs off for the beaten side, particularly after the Kingz numerical reduction, and provided those watching with an object lesson in the fact that age matters not while desire and will-to-win remain two of a playerıs key attributes.
But Sydney returned home with the points, and deserved to, particularly on their first half performance. Yet for all their possession, Kingz keeper Michael Utting had very little to do throughout the entire match.
Tame first half efforts from Damon Collina, Joe Vrkic and Zeljko Babic were dealt with in a manner bordering on contempt, so ineffective were the shots, while the bulk of Unitedıs attacks foundered on the defensive rock that was Tambouras, until he met with a rather nasty injury seven minutes before half-time.
Anthony Doumanis clipped the ball into Babic, who chested the ball skywards prior to unleashing a volley on the turn at shoulder height. Unfortunately for the striker, his boot unintentionally caught Tambouras flush on the forehead, the defender having rose to head clear.
Blood flowed like fine wine from a wound requiring seven stitches, and the well-performed defender - who was well on course for man-of-the-match honours to that point - was instead assured of a thumping headache for Christmas!
Prior to this incident, United had created two clear-cut opportunities, two more, it must be said, than a Kingz combination which struggled to string any number of passes together and surrendered possession far too easily for comfortıs sake.
The first chance came in the 22nd minute, when Mark Rudan, Unitedıs captain, headed the ball forward to Franco Parisi. The striker outpaced the Kingz defence as he galloped forward from inside his own half, and upon reaching the edge of the penalty area, let fly, only for the advancing Utting to paw the ball to safety.
Four minutes later, a Doumanis corner picked out the unmarked Rudan at the near post, and the big defender was forced to hold his head in his hands upon sending a header bulleting past the upright with Utting beaten, and a breath away from berating the defenders in front of him for their poor attempts at marking Unitedıs tall timber at the set-piece.
The visitorsı third chance of the half came in stoppage time, and it decided the encounter. Doumanis was buzzing around the edge of the penalty area in his usual manner, this time being foiled by Collins. But following up was the otherwise unsighted Labinot Haliti, who let fly from twenty yards with a bullet of a shot which flew past the unsighted Utting high into the back of the Kingz net.
Babic attempted to double Unitedıs lead five minutes into the second spell, after Tambourası replacement, Brad Scott, had gifted possession to the striker. Utting smothered the shot well low to his right, then tipped a dangerous inswinging corner over the crossbar from Parisi three minutes later, by which time the home team had been reduced to ten men.
Referee James Lewis was correct in his decision to book Collins, as there was no question his challenge on substitute Brendan Santalab, who was making his first run having come on for Babic, was a bookable offence. Unfortunately for the defender, it was his second of the match, and gave the official no option but to wield the red card as well.
That said, some of Mr Lewisı decisions, against both teams, were of the weird and wonderful variety, and such was the run of the ball in this match that the official found himself plum in the path of either passes or players on far too many more occasions than is normally the case in the course of your average match.
His positioning, in relation to the action, was too close for comfort at times, and as a result, the ball ricocheted off the referee far more frequently than is desirable. Thankfully, his intrusions didnıt disrupt attacks at telling stages of their build-up, but the occasional sight of a frustrated Kingz captain, Jackson, exchanging views with the official suggested that the latterıs overall performance was not one which could generally be described as ³player-friendly².
Jackson himself provided the home teamıs first shot on goal in the 54th minute, unleashing a twenty-yard grasscutter, hit after beating a couple of opponents on the run, which the hitherto unoccupied Liam Reddy smothered greedily. It was the only save Unitedıs keeper had to make, although late efforts from Scott and Mauro Donoso narrowly cleared his crossbar in a half in which the Kingz proved far more competitive than in the first forty-five minutes.
These efforts apart, the home team struggled to penetrate a United defence well marshalled by their captain, Rudan. At the other end of the park, however, chances were greater in frequency, understandable given the Kingz numerical inferiority.
Parisi sent a 62nd minute effort skidding past Uttingıs right-hand post, while the challenge of Jason Rowley thwarted Santalab four minutes later, the substitute then squandering a gift-wrapped chance when put through by David Huxley eight minutes later.
With a surname such as his, Santalab must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when he found himself through on goal. But on this occasion, and again in the 78th minute, he troubled Utting little, unlike Parisi seconds after the initial effort.
The striker was supplied with the ball by Haliti, who pounced on a Scott clearance to engineer the opening. Parisi cut in and let fly from twenty-five yards, Utting tipping the challenging drive to safety.
The result corner from Santalab wasnıt cleared by the Kingz, with Rowley almost steering the ball into his own net in the resulting scramble. Thankfully for the home team, Utting grabbed it under the crossbar, and after clearing the danger, took it upon himself to even up the outfield numbers by turning up on the left wing seconds later.
And if Santalab was startled at the sight of the Kingz custodian dribbling past him, the Lord alone knows what Kingz coach Tommy Mason thought of the entertainment value added to the match by the ever unorthodox but always imaginative Utting!! At least it gave the gathered throngs - all 1,054 of them - something to cheer as the bottom-placed side ultimately succumbed for the tenth time this season.