Balmain can’t bridge the 4 tier gap

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Westfield 2015 FFA Cup – Round of 32 – Game day 3 Feature game
7:30pm, Tuesday 4th August 2015 – Leichhardt Oval, Lilyfield

Balmain Tigers FC 0
lost to
Melbourne Victory FC 6
(Besart Berisha 11′, Connor Pain 41′, Kosta Barbarouses 56′, Daniel Georgievski 58′, George Howard 70′, Fahid Ben Khalfallah 84′)

As Balmain Tigers prepare to face their final three State League Division 1 matches of the season, hoping to secure a Finals’ place four week’s later, they can look back on their ‘finest hour’ with great pride, hopefully being able to put aside the remnants of that thrilling night at Leichhardt Oval, in order to fully focus on the domestic competition which provides the club with a realistic chance of honours in this most exciting of seasons for them.

Their last three matches are against Inter-Lions, on Sunday afternoon at Wentworth Park, away to Nepean at Cook Park St Marys, the following Saturday and finally, an away game at Garside Park on Sunday 23rd August, against relegation-fighters, Granville Rage.

None of those game will be easy, especially the last two, but while the FFA Cup match against Melbourne Victory was realistically harder than any of them, nobody at the club, least of all captain Tom Hyde and his players, had any great expectations for winning that huge match anyway.

They valued the opportunity to showcase the talents of the team in front of a nationwide TV audience and to play before the hordes of first-time visitors to any Balmain Tigers’ game, on the ground itself.

The club was able to showcase its organisational skills, hard-work and passion, as much as anything else and to be able to entertain the current A League champions, not just any common-or-garden A League team, but the double-winners from last season, was a magnificent honour for the club.

They worked tirelessly to pull in a crowd and while the lead-time was reasonable there was so much to do that much of the preparations had to be rushed, including the production of a match-day programme, which would have been more substantial than a single, folded sheet, handed out free at the gate, had resources not been stretched so thinly.

The club called on some of the players to work on preparations for the game, including of course their personable captain, Tom Hyde, who showed his skills in front of the camera and before the microphone, in the lead up to the game and after the game itself.

The club received excellent exposure and it was largely down to the players themselves that they were able to make headlines, both before and after the big occasion.

The coach, Joe Di Giulio, was also a busy man throughout the process, having training to conduct, as well as many other responsibilities that he willingly embraced.

His personal satisfaction at receiving a Melbourne Victory club-tie, during his encounter with the A League club in the epic encounter, was clear for all to see as he held up his souvenir for the TV cameras and photographers to capture post-match.

The players would gladly have swapped their brand new All black and gold-trim shirts with the players from Melbourne Victory, post-match, but unfortunately that was to prove difficult.

“Yeah, we were hoping to do that,” said Hyde.

“But they only had one kit and couldn’t part with it,” he explained.

“We were hoping something could be arranged, but it doesn’t look like it can be, now.

The Tigers’ task was made much harder, if it was not insurmountably difficult already, when four regulars were ineligible for the big game.

Apart from Cup-tied mid-fielders, the Di Mento brothers, Giacomo and Domenico, as well as defender Josh Karpes, who’d played earlier in the season in the colours of Inter-Lions, skilful attacker and perhaps their strongest player, Ahmed Chandab, was suspended, after being sent off in the team’s surprise 3-1 loss at the hands of Hawkesbury nine days’ earlier.

The Tigers came into this game on the back of an improved showing against Dulwich Hill at Arlington Oval where, even without Ahmed Chandab, they’d looked the part of Finals’ contenders in beating Dully 2-0.

While they’ll have Ahmed back for the last round and hopefully the Finals as well, the player would have been gutted at missing this huge fixture on Tuesday night.

Six different players scored for the A League side, with the Victory team, unsurprisingly, dominating the game almost for the whole 90 minutes, but at no stage did the Balmain team lose heart, or resort to over-physicality, against an opponent that fielded more or less its strongest available side.

Fans got right behind the home team, creating a rare atmosphere, which the Balmain players no doubt lapped up and drew great strength from.

Some off-target finishing from Melbourne Victory contributed to the visitors scoring no more than six, but Tigers’ keeper, Anthony Costa, must also take some of the credit for that scoreline, as he was in vintage form, already enjoying a stellar season with the club and responsible for saves on a weekly basis which lends the team some reliability at the back, behind a well-drilled defensive line.

Apart from Costa, all of the Balmain players had their moments, tracking back and not being afraid to venture forward on frequent occasions.

There were huge cheers from a partisan crowd right near the end when Balmain were able to win two successive corners, one on either flank.

Costa came up for them, as keepers love to do and when the second of those saw possession change hands quickly, he had to race back to guard his goal, vainly lacking the speed to deny Victory player, Scott Galloway, from trying a long-distance lob towards the empty net.

But Costa was relieved to see the effort deviate at the last minute and shoot wide of the left-hand upright.

That was an entertaining moment for the latecomers who’d parked themselves behind that goal at the far end, as accommodating the better-than-expected crowd meant opening up areas of Leichhardt Oval that were initially kept closed.

One tier of the grandstand was quickly put into service, once it became clear that there would be far more at the ground than the 1,200 who’d bought tickets in advance.

Coping with the near 5,000 crowd that made it to the Lilyfield arena was a logistical exercise in itself and many fans had to wait patiently to be processed with the usual security checks and ticket verification at the stadium doors.

Even if they were late to find their seats they would surely have still enjoyed every moment of being part of the festive occasion.

The game has been widely covered by the mainstream media and was the feature game shown live on TV, but for those at the ground itself, the experience was one to savour, no matter the cold night air or the little chance Balmain had of actually winning the tie.

Victory came into the match with only one warm-up match, against Australia’s Under-20s, but the only players missing of any consequence were the suspended Carlo Valeri and the injured Archie Thompson.

Besart Berisha and Gui Finkler were to the fore for most of the game, while of course last year’s winning captain and Socceroo, Mark Milligan, has now moved overseas once more.

The only notable absentee from the starting line-up, perhaps, was Danny Vukovic, the latest goalkeeper signed by the club, but Lawrence Thomas played many games last season, so was hardly a replacement with little experience.

Outstanding for the Victory team, no surprise of course, was winger Kosta Barbarouses, with another explosive and entertaining player, Fahid Ben Khalfallah coming on later, off the bench.

Fans who’d paid their money got a good deal.

No second-string A League players had been picked and no lack of respect was shown towards Balmain Tigers by Melbourne Victory.

As Balmain tired towards the end, as part-timers might have been expected to do, they disguised it well and seldom looked outclassed, if out-thought at times or mesmerised by the individual skills of their opponents in tight situations.

Balmain will hope that some of the people who came to see them play in this game will rally to the cause at State League 1 matches, especially for the remainder of the current campaign, if they can make a claim for honours during the Finals’ series.

Match details

Crowd: 4,849

Balmain Tigers FC: 23. Anthony COSTA (gk);  2. Thomas HYDE (c), 17. Jehan LOKE, 14. Sergej KUNST, 10. Andrew CASALI;  21. Gavin WENYON;  3. Joel COOK (7. Tatsuya NAKADAI 57),  5. Ciaran MUIR, 9. Jonathan GOWDY, 11. William DONATO (29.Valentin BROEHL 48); 25. Scott TONKIN (6. James KIOIDIS 48)

Subs not used:  16. Lachlan KERR (gk),  8. Costa FIAKOS

Coach: Joe Di Giulio
Yellow cards: Ciaran Muir 16; Red Cards: Nil

Melbourne Victory FC:  20. Lawrence THOMAS (gk);  2.Jason GERIA, 24.Thomas DENG, 5.Daniel GEORGIEVSKI, 3.Scott GALLOWAY;  6.Leigh BROXHAM (c); 22.Jesse MAKAROUNAS, 7.Gui FINKLER (23.Keiran DOVER 73);  9.Kosta BARBAROUSES (14.Fahid BEN KHALFALLAH 65), 8 Besart BERISHA (19 George HOWARD 65), 11.Connor PAIN
Subs not used: RGK  1.Danny VUKOVIC, 18.Dylan MURNANE

Coach: Kevin Muscat
Yellow cards: Nil; Red Cards: Nil

Referee: Stephen Lucas
Assistants: Lance Greenshields and Mitchell Clark
Fourth Official: Chris Young

Ratings and miscellaneous

Match 6/10
Pitch: 8/10

Weather: Cold, but who cared? Little breeze. Atmosphere electric.

Players noted: Anthony Costa (BT), Gavin Wenyon (BT), Jonathan Gowdy (BT), Leigh Broxham (BT),  Gui Finkler (MV), Kosta Barbarouses (MV)