No Lions comeback this time

By Corinthian (Paul Green)

PS4 NSW Men’s State League 1 Qualifying Final, 4 pm, Sunday 30th August 2015, Arlington Oval, Dulwich Hill

Rydalmere Lions 1 (Zakeriya Elrich 66) lost to Hills Brumbies 4 (Liam Lawler 5, Greg Giovenali 22, Jordan Lane 79, Wade Giovenali 90+3)

State League 1 side, the second-placed Rydalmere Lions, had their sights set on next Sunday’s Major Semi-final against Premiers, North Shore Mariners, when they stepped out for Sunday’s Qualifying Final at Arlington Oval, against third-placed Hills Brumbies.

Things didn’t go according to plan, however, as they were mostly outplayed by a resurgent Brumbies team, who they’d previously beaten twice during the season proper, each time giving their opponents a start.

Here they did the same, leaking two early goals, but were unable to make the same recovery, despite pulling a goal back from the penalty-spot early in the second half.

Before the match, Rydalmere coach Tony Basha had mentioned that he had more players available than he had during the previous weekend’s 3-1 loss on the same ground to Stanmore Hawks, when he’d rested some five men to reserve them for this important contest, as his team could not finish any higher or lower than second, no matter what the result last weekend.

But he also cautioned that his team would still be stronger the following weekend, though the presence of returning star winger and forward, Zakeriya Elrich, might have been of some concern to the Hills Brumbies camp.

Hills Brumbies coach, “Joe” Giovenali, however, who shares the coaching duty with his son, Greg, had no real fears about the opposition, ahead of the game.

Speaking to Back of the Net more than an hour before the kick-off, he explained the mood among his players.

“The last time I spoke to you, the first time we met Rydalmere, I told you that I was quite nervous and we lost that day, after being in front.”

At that time his brother, Mark, was sharing the coaching duties, but since then a few changes have been made and Mark has left the scene, while “Joe” has been a constant.

That match at Lily’s Football Centre finished 4-2 to the Lions back in late May and the return game, played at Sydney United Sports Centre, was won by the Lions 3-2 just two weeks before this game took place.

“Mark’s gone now, but Greg is helping me in his place,” he explained, mentioning one of his other sons, who also leads the team on the field.

“I’m very confident about today’s game. Talk to me afterwards, if I’m wrong, but the boys are really pumped today and we’re playing very well, even though I only have 12 senior players to choose from, as it’s a very tight unit.

“My bench has three 17-year-olds and one 18-year-old and the average age of this team is below 23,” he went on.

Hills Brumbies could not have asked for a better start, as they scored two beauties in the first-half, one of them coming after only seven minutes, from Liam Lawler, with an absolute screamer from 25 metres and the other, similarly individualistic, from co-coach, Greg Giovenali, in the 22nd minute and equally unstoppable for the helpless Rydalmere keeper as it zeroed into the top corner of the net from a decent distance too.

The game could quite easily have turned, then, on a missed penalty opportunity for Hills Brumbies in the 35th, but when Greg Giovenali struck the ball weakly towards the keeper, Rydalmere may have sensed there might be a get-out clause available to them.

Indeed, after 66 minutes, they won their own penalty, put away convincingly by Elrich, and for a while they lifted their intensity, sensing that they might be able to fashion yet another comeback against the Brumbies, having done it twice already this season.

Really, though, Hills were by far the hungrier of the two teams and the lethargic display of the Lions made their task a lot easier than it should have been.

With Rydalmere fighting back and looking to at least draw level and perhaps secure a late winner, Hills continued their own offensive.

They benefitted, in the end, from the most wicked of deflections in the 79th minute, as their substitute Wade Giovenali struck from 20 yards, with plenty of power, perhaps expecting the fierce effort to be saved, but a defender inadvertently changed the path of the ball and the keeper, already committed, had no chance of stopping it nestling in the bottom right corner of the Rydalmere net to extend the Brumbies lead to 3-1.

As Rydalmere piled forward in desperation with stoppage time beginning to run out, Hills struck a fourth time, a cut back from Greg Giovenali being met clinically by late substitute Jordan Lane.

“Yeah we weren’t at our best today,” said beaten coach Tony Basha.

“We’ll have our strongest side available next week, but we didn’t play our best at all today.

“A key defender arrived late and for disciplinary reasons I put him on the bench and reshuffled the defence.

“I had our young midfielder, Aaron Avery, who’s signed for Sydney FC’s Youth team on a two-year contract, and who’d already played 80 minutes in the Under 20s match, playing a full game at right back.

“I had to bench the regular guy for the sake of discipline.

“Next week we’ll have a full side again.

“Also, because we didn’t win both games today, we’ll have to play on both days now, which is a bit disappointing as we’d have preferred to play both on the same day and closer to home, out west, rather than down here in Dulwich Hill.”

Rydalmere will now take on Balmain Tigers on Saturday in what could be another difficult game for them.

As for Hills Brumbies, their co-coaches must have been satisfied with the performance.

“I was very confident, as the boys are really pumped at the moment and, after Rydalmere pulled a goal back, the team really knuckled down and made sure they were not going to let Rydalmere come back like the last two times,” “Joe” Giovenali said.

“The way this young team is playing right now, I’m confident we can beat North Shore Mariners next week too.

“They’re just so determined and working so well as a unit that I’m sure we can beat the Premiers next weekend,” he declared.

As for the missed penalty, Giovenali was not perturbed.

“We haven’t had many penalties this season so it’s not as if we have a regular penalty-taker.

“In the end we gave them a chance, but we fought hard to preserve our lead and were absolutely certain we weren’t going to let Rydalmere off the hook a third time!”

Match stats:

Rydalmere Lions:
1 Harrick Sinpraseuth (gk); 20 Aaron Avery; 3 Kim Cheong; 14 Khalid Allybokus; 8 Addison Sayan; 10 Ballamodou Conde (C2); 7 Zakeriya Elrich; 6 Julian Aguirre; 48 Ryunosuke Hayashi (24 Amaury Gauthier 46); 42 Daniel Vickers (12 John Fahmi 73); 23 Chris Camilleri; (18 Lloyd Owusu 68).
Subs not used: 11 Liam Delaney; 15 Mustafa Akca.
Yellow cards: Chris Camilleri 36; Zakeriya Elrich 90+2; John Fahmi 90+4.
Coach: Tony Basha
Red cards: Nil

Hills Brumbies:
21 Jackson Franich (gk); 4 Ryan Faulkner; 5 Thomas Brandon; 16 Greg Giovenali; 17 Brendan Hoyer; 39 Adam Savetta (32 Jordan Lane 74); 35 Alex McCracken; 20 Glen Kelshaw; 14 Liam Lawler (7 Wade Giovenali 69); 10 Bruno Pivato (28 Keiran Pace 85); 15 Chris Bedzo.
Subs not used: 1 Kale Morrow; 38 Jaydan Mescell.
Yellow cards: Liam Lawler 27; Greg Giovenali 39; Bruno Pivato 72; Ryan Faulkner 75.
Red cards: Nil
Coach: ‘Joe’ Giovenali

Referee: Craig Fisher
Assistants: Peter Liaros and Alex Long

Match: 7/10

Pitch: 10/10 (synthetic)

Weather: Mild and dry, light breeze

Crowd: Approx 150

Players noted:
Kim Cheong (RL), Ballamodou Conde (RL), Liam Lawler (HB), Bruno Pivato (HB), Greg Giovenali (HB), Ryan Faulkner (HB)

By Corinthian (Paul Green)