Tigers resist Lions fightback

By Corinthian (Paul Green)

PS4 NSW Men’s State League 1 Semi Final 1
Arlington Oval, Dulwich Hill, Saturday 5th September 2015 4 pm

Rydalmere Lions 2 (L. Owusu 36, A. Gauthier 62) lost to Balmain Tigers 3 (J. Cook 31, 51, S. Tonkin 94)

Balmain Tigers remain in contention for the major prize of the Championship after beating second-placed Rydalmere Lions in a gripping game at Arlington Oval last Saturday.

The Tigers led twice against the skilful Lions, only to be pegged back twice, before resolving the matter in extra-time and winning 3-2, with a third strike just five minutes into the extra-time period.

They then had to ward off a hungry Rydalmere intent on clawing their way back a third time, over the remaining 25 minutes available.

Balmain Tigers earned the right to meet Hills Brumbies, in the Preliminary Final at Valentine Sports Park this coming Sunday at 4 pm.

If they can win this, which would be a fourth win in succession for them, then the Grand Final match against Premiers, North Shore Mariners, awaits them.

Hills Brumbies are tough customers and 24 hours after this game was decided they pushed the Mariners into extra time as well, finally going down 4-2 after a great fighting performance.

On Sunday Balmain Tigers will certainly need to dig deep, as they did here against Rydalmere, to win their way through to the much-prized Grand Final of 2015.

The Tigers have only just scraped through their two Finals matches, but a win is a win, as their two latest victims, Dulwich Hill and Rydalmere Lions, full well know now.

This game at Arlington Oval was a real thriller and spectators were certainly kept on the edge of their seats throughout.

Rydalmere were the home team, due to their superior finishing position, just as they had been against Hills Brumbies the week before, when well beaten.

Rydalmere had lost their final Round 22 match on this ground against Stanmore Hawks, who needed the win to stand any chance of making the Finals. In the end the Hawks missed out, but it didn’t affect Rydalmere’s finishing position and their decision to rest some players, and also having some players injured, was a factor in that loss.

A week later they had some players back, but not all of them, knowing they had a second chance this week.

The big guns, or at least most of them, reappeared here, the highest profile of the players back in the side being veteran striker, the ageless Lloyd Owusu.

But prior to the kick-off, club captain, Chris Camilleri failed a late fitness test during the warm-up and had to take on the role of assistant coach, sitting on the bench next to coach Tony Basha.

Vice-captain Ballamodou Conde took over the armband and Owusu gave a sterling performance as the team’s roving number nine.

Balla Conde, meanwhile, played his usual role in front of the defence, with a commission to go forward whenever opportunity arose.

Balmain had a slightly changed line-up from the team that had beaten Dulwich Hill 1-0 a week earlier at Lily’s Football Centre.

As always, they were led from right back by their inspirational captain, Tom Hyde, and it was he who got them on their way, with a strong tackle and a fine pass, out wide, to right-winger Domenico Di Mento in the 31st minute.

The cross was whipped in nicely for Joel Cook to head home, virtually unmarked, inside the six-yard box.

It was to be a game of many more chances, a bucket-load of them missed or, in a few cases, saved but there were still five that counted, in what proved an absolutely absorbing contest.

Rydalmere had done much of the early attacking and went close through left back Damien Smith in only the fourth minute. Smith’s header was only just over, after the Lions player had darted into the box and won an aerial challenge.

But Balmain had already gone close themselves, William Donato on the left scraping an effort against the post and then out, just a minute earlier.

Domenico Di Mento also ran onto a nice pass in the 13th to be denied by a near-post save from the Rydalmere keeper.

A minute later, in what was clearly going to be an end-to-end contest, the combined efforts of Zakeriya Elrich and Amaury Gauthier led to Mohammad Qasimi getting into a good scoring position, only to fire narrowly wide.

This was to be a familiar pattern, as desperate defending by either side was unable to do more than hold up attackers, who were full of running, possessed with an eagerness to score.

Too eager, much of the time, it would seem.

Finally, in the 36th, Rydalmere drew level.

Good work down the left by Gauthier saw the ball played across for Lloyd Owusu to stroke home, effortlessly.

His polished finish, so familiar to those who’ve followed his career over the years in English Premier League and in the A-League, looked ominous for Balmain, but it was to be the big man’s only goal of the game, though far from his only contribution.

Owusu was flicking balls on and winning headers all over the park, looking to play his attacking partners into goal-scoring positions whenever possible.

Given his record of missing a lot of games due to injury this season and his lack of recent game time, it was testament to his professionalism that when regular target man, Camilleri, didn’t start or even make it as a substitute, Englishman Owusu played the full 120 minutes without complaint.

After the first equaliser Balmain fans would have had every right to be nervous.

Especially as the chances continued to come and go with Owusu’s prompting a major factor in the frequent threat from Rydalmere.

Two early second half missed chances by Rydalmere gave Balmain some breathing space, however, so much so that they were able to fashion another goal, which took them back into the lead.

That goal came in the 51st and it arrived after a swift counter-attack by the Tigers, for whom Gavin Wenyon was instrumental.

He was able to send the ball over the heads of the Rydalmere defenders and into the path of Domenico Di Mento, who got to the by-line well and sent the ball across for a tidy finish by Joel Cook once more.

There was still a long time to go, though, so Balmain fans would have remained cautious and had every right to be.

Although Domenico Di Mento had been put through in the 53rd, only to clip the ball just over the bar, Rydalmere had been just as busy themselves.

Gauthier forced a save from Balmain keeper, Anthony Costa, in the 62nd and when the tall glove-man could only parry the strong shot, Gauthier, following up, netted at the second attempt.

Costa did save his side in the 64th, however, getting down well to stop a fine effort from Elrich.

And so the game moved into extra-time, with neither side really appearing to have the upper hand.

Balmain drew first blood in the 94th minute and that was all it took to win the game, as it transpired.

The Tigers man of the moment, early second-half substitute Scott Tonkin, was the scorer, as he’s been so often this season, off the bench, in tight games, getting on the end of a cross from Wenyon, who provided the assist once again, to give Balmain the lead for the third time.

Would Rydalmere come back again? It looked touch-and-go for a long while and Balmain had to dig deep in defending against an attack that still had plenty to offer.

But as extra-time wound down the Rydalmere onslaught slowed, perhaps due to fatigue and having limited options off the bench to relieve tired legs.

They could not do it and Balmain were the ones to advance, after a wonderful exhibition of attacking football from both teams.

Beaten coach Tony Basha was philosophical.

“That’s Finals football. It can go either way. We did have players out still, but I can’t fault the effort from the players today.”

Balmain skipper, Tom Hyde, who’s thinking of bowing out at the end of the season, was relieved it was all over, if only for one more week.

“I’m getting too old for this,” he laughed.

“These games do take it out of you, but I’m proud of the lads and we’ll go again next week.

“We’ve won three in a row now and if we want to be Champions we’ll have to win two more.

“We know it won’t be easy, but it never is. We’ll give it our best shot next weekend, no matter who we play,” he said before Hills Brumbies became their next opponents, after Sunday’s narrow loss to the North Shore side at Northbridge Oval.

Balmain had lost twice to Rydalmere during the season so winning this one was all the sweeter.

Match stats:

Rydalmere Lions:
1 Harrick Sinpraseuth (gk), 20 Aaron Avery (14 Khalid Allybokus 71), 3 Kim Cheong, 15 Mustafa Akca, 21 Damien Smith, 10 Ballamodou Conde (c), 52 Mohammad Qasimi (6 Julian Aguirre 82), 12 John Fahmi (48 Ryunosuke Hayashi 56), 7 Zakeriya Elrich, 18 Lloyd Owusu, 24 Amaury Gauthier.
Subs not used: 39 Addison Sayan
Yellow cards: Mohammad Qasimi 37
Red cards: Nil
Coach: Tony Basha

Balmain Tigers:
23 Anthony Costa (gk); 2 Thomas Hyde (c), 29 Jehan Loke, 22 Josh Karpes, 10 Andrew Casali, 18 Domenico Di Mento (7 Tatsuya Nakadai 97), 5 Ciaran Muir, 15 Giacomo Di Mento, 21 Gavin Wenyon, 11 William Donato (25 Scott Tonkin 56), Joel Cook (6 James Kiosidis 72).
Subs not used: 13 Ahmed Chandab, 9 Jonathan Gowdy
Yellow cards: Scott Tonkin 75, Andrew Casali 115
Red cards: Nil
Coach: Joe Di Giulio

Referee: Kelly Jones
Assistants: Kearney Robinson and Ray Osborne

Match: 9/10

Pitch: 10/10 (Synthetic)

Weather: Cool, moderate breeze

Crowd: Approx. 75

Players noted: Lloyd Owusu (RL), Amaury Gauthier (RL), Ballamodou Conde (RL), Domenico Di Mento (BT), Joel Cook (BT), Gavin Wenyon (BT)

By Corinthian (Paul Green)