NSW NPL2 Premiers decided at The Crest

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

NSW PS4 NPL 2 Men –  Round 21 feature
7:30pm, Saturday 15th August 2015  – The Crest Sports Complex, Bass Hill

Bankstown Berries FC 1 (Nick Paras 11′)
lost to
Spirit FC 5 (Gosue Sama 2′, Tim Simpson 20′, Jacob Harris 50′, 64′, Henry Wells 61′)

The NPL2 title has been decided.

Spirit FC needed to beat Bankstown Berries last Saturday night at The Crest Sports Complex in Bass Hill in order to retain their clear lead over nearest rivals Hakoah Sydney City East – whose earlier midweek catch-up game at Popondetta Park against Mount Druitt had been abandoned with 23 minutes left to play (requiring its completion three nights after this fixture, with the remaining minutes conducted at Valentine Park).
News came through on Wednesday morning that the game had finished 1-1, after there was no addition to the score, leaving Spirit FC five points clear of Hakoah, with only the coming weekend’s final away matches to be played.

This now means that the boys from the Gladesville-Hornsby Association can now receive the trophy without further ado.

Spirit FC had to conclude their season with two away matches, but they’d wrapped things up nicely with a string of wins at home, only one blemish to their imposing record being a 1-0 loss to Fraser Park near the start of the campaign.

Their final match against Mounties FC, at Cook Park Mount Pritchard, will now mean more to their opponents than it will to them, as the south-western Sydney side are languishing at the foot of the ladder in First Grade, and still in some danger of dropping out of the division altogether, thanks to a dog-fight with St George and Sydney University at the foot of the Club Championship table, which is the deciding factor in the relegation stakes.

Mounties Wanderers failed to secure a single point last weekend, but will hope that the euphoria brought by Spirit’s win at The Crest, coupled with the form of their less consistent younger teams, will enable them to stave off the big drop.

After beating the Berries, Spirit FC coach, John McLafferty, had contemplated resting some players for the last match, but in light of the seriousness of the Mounties’ plight and that of their rivals St George and Sydney University, he feels it only fair to field his strongest side for the coming weekend’s match now.

At The Crest, Spirit FC were without one of their most promising stars, teenager Abraham Majok, who’d missed a few games already, of late, as he undergoes trials with Central Coast Mariners.

Majok had managed a number of important goals, as had fellow front-runner, Kuag Reec, who started against The Berries, but who suffered an injury only eight minutes into the contest.

With the Berries chasing fifth-spot and keen to hold off Bankstown City Lions for a Finals’ berth, Spirit knew their opponents would be no pushovers.

And although the visitors and hot title-favourites opened the scoring, little more than a minute into the game against The Berries, that lead didn’t last long, as Nick Paras blasted the home team back level again nine minutes later.

Paras had looked good off the bench the previous week at Hakoah and started here, having recently returned from an overseas trip and slowly being eased back into contention.

He was a standout for The Berries here, with Spirit having their work cut out to contain Wally Savor’s men, who gave as good as they got for most of the first-half.

But that was not enough to prevent Spirit from regaining the lead in the 20th minute.

Spirit’s first goal had come from Gosue Sama, their best player for most of the season, as a deep-lying attacking man, not afraid to get stuck in to gain or regain possession and always available to probe and push forward and occasionally score important goals as well.

Sama may have been around for a while, but he’s still as useful as he was when he first burst onto the scene more than a decade ago and has won a few new admirers this term.

Jacob Harris, operating wide on the left and back in the starting eleven, after some runs off the bench, delivered the cross that allowed Sama to strike early and hand the visitors the lead and thus cool some nerves.

The ever-reliable Spirit midfielder, Ryan Johnstone, had provided the initial pass to send Harris away down the flank and both men were to figure prominently over the remainder of the match as well.

When a Berries’ corner was not cleared in the eleventh minute, Paras swept the ball home from outside the area, with a low finish through a sea of legs, having his side right back in the contest.

Paras had set up the lively Joel Anscomb in the tenth minute to give notice that the Berries were not about to cave in, but on that occasion Spirit keeper, David Lowery was able to save with his legs, at close range.

With Kuag Reec out of commission and replaced by club stalwart, Tim Simpson, Spirit lost nothing by the move and managed to storm back in the 20th.

Johnstone’s corner from the left was whipped in high and it presented The Berries’ defence with some problems.

The ball was cleared, but only as far as Simpson, who was just inside the area. He had to deal with an awkward bounce and did so by turning sharply and striking the ball on the bounce, it’s delivery proving too much for Berries’ keeper Michael Frost to negotiate and Spirit were back in front.

The first-half continued to swing back and forth, with Spirit looking a real handful out wide, with Henry Wells on the right and Harris on the left giving the Berries’ backs a torrid time.

Spirit would have been very content to go to the sheds at 2-1 up, though as it happened they chose to remain on the sidelines at half-time to discuss their second-half strategy.

Whatever was said by the coaching staff worked, as Spirit were able to grab three more goals in the opening twenty minutes and seal Bankstown Berries’ fate.

Racing to a 5-1 lead, with two goals from Jacob Harris and another from Henry Wells virtually ended the Berries’ Finals’ dreams.

Once Bankstown City Lions won their game the following day 1-0 over Central Coast at Jensen Park, the Berries slim hopes evaporated.

Spirit went about their second-half business in demonstrating that they are worthy Premiers, taking only five minutes to establish a 3-1 lead.

Springing the offside trap, the speedy Wells got away down the right and crossed smartly for ‘partner in crime’ Harris to slam home in the middle, with Berries’ defenders trailing well behind.

The pressure continued and it was looking a matter of how many more Spirit could squeeze out of the match, with the Berries unable to cope with the speed and fluid understanding possessed by the visitors.

A ball lost on half-way by the Berries in the 61st allowed Johnstone to send Wells through the middle and confront exposed Berries’ keeper, Frost.

Wells was able to loft the ball over the keeper and send it, one bounce, into an unguarded net for 4-1.

Then, from yet another fast raid down the right, Wells once again got to the by-line and crossed for Harris to volley home number five in the 64th.

The Berries never stopped trying, it has to be said, but the Spirit midfield was superior on the night and their strength in depth was highlighted by this solid win, accomplished with key personnel missing.

They used all of their substitutes and were even without another regular, Brad Gibson, this time as well, so it probably won’t matter who plays against Mounties Wanderers on Sunday, they’ll still prove a formidable opponent.

Until then they’ll savour their moment and go out to try and celebrate with another win, having been beaten only three times all season.

“We were beaten by the best side in the competition and they are worthy Premiers,” Berries’ coach, Wally Savor, acknowledged at the end of the match.

“Yes it was difficult having to play Hakoah and Spirit in our last two games, but if we wanted to qualify, we knew we have to beat these top teams and we just couldn’t manage it this time.

John McLafferty had time to reflect on a job well done, not only in this game, but throughout the season.

“To their credit The Berries never stopped trying and they are a very good team, so we knew we needed to be at our best tonight.

“We gave Jacob Harris a chance and he seized his opportunity with both hands.  When Kuag Reec was injured I knew we could rely on Tim Simpson to take over.

Match details

Crowd:  approx 75

Bankstown Berries FC: GK 1 Michael Frost (C); 18 Matthew Trotter (19 Dimitri Zakilas 55), 16 Milan Zoric, 3 Liam McKenna, 12 Mitchell Davidson;  2 Andrew Vitucci, 7 Kyle Ewart, 21 Peter Dimitropoulos, 10 Jun Kato (22 Jake Bradshaw 66), 11 Joel Anscomb (4 Omar Saadi 85);  14 Nick Paras
Subs not used: RGK 42 Jake Senior, 13 Andrew Nkpolokwu

Yellow cards: Mitchell Davidson 42, Milan Zoric 45; Red cards: Nil

Coach: Wally Savor

Spirit FC: 41. David Lowery (gk); 19 Tom Lovell, 2 Daniel Cunningham (C), 4 Nicholas Trimble, 13 Lord Darkoh; 3 Henry Wells, 8 Grant Cornwell, 14 Ryan Johnstone, 7 Jacob Harris (5 Andrew Robertson 76);  22 Gosue Sama;  21 Kuag Reec (9 Tim Simpson 8) (17 Ross Kethel 85)
Subs not used: RGK 1 Murray Nelson

Yellow card: Jacob Harris 42; Red cards: Nil
Coach: John McLafferty

Referee: James Lewis
Assistants: Raymond Osborne and David Haslett

Ratings and miscellaneous
Weather: Cool evening, little breeze
Game: 7/10
Pitch: 7/10
Players noted: Nick Paras (BB), Liam McKenna BB), Gosue Sama (SFC), Henry Wells (SFC), Ryan Johnstone (SFC), Jacob Harris (SFC)