Not so young battled it out

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Foxtel National Youth League – Version 2 – Season 1 – Round 8 (Conference B)
5pm, Sunday 2nd January 2016 – Lambert Park, Leichhardt

Sydney FC  5
(Robert Stambolziev 41, Ali Abbas 45+1, Bai Antonio 47, Cristian Gonzales 80, Christopher Zuvela 81)
Central Coast Mariners FC 3
(Nick Fitzgerald 28, Anthony Kalik 63, Glen Trifiro pen 68)

National Youth League matches this season have been strange affairs and this one at Lambert Park last Sunday was no exception.

Already playing in a truncated competition, involving just five teams and with a bye every week, with only eight matches to play in all, the ‘winners’ of this Northern section will play off with the winners of the Southern section, once all fixtures have been completed.

In this match Central Coast Mariners, with no chance of finishing first anyway, used the occasion to keep five of their first-team squad members fit, with rumours persisting that some of them are in dispute and wanting away from the club, as well.

Sydney FC, the hosts and Northern section leaders, wanted a win to secure that spot in the North-South play-off match, but, as always, had a starting eleven that differed from every other one that’s been fielded, thus far, with experience, rather than honours, the guiding principle behind Youth Team selection, allied to a need to keep senior players fit, though none that we know of are in dispute, compared to some of those from the Mariners fielded here.

In keeping with this Sydney FC had their recovering star, the highly versatile Ali Abbas, in the starting line-up, as he prepares to make a return to A League action at the weekend, when the Sky Blues take on Newcastle Jets at Olympic Park.

Ali Abbas has been showing up well in recent Youth League games and, in common with fringe A League players like Aaron Calver, Jacob Tratt and Robert Stambolziev, was included in a strong side sent out under the coaching guidance of Robert Stanton.

But, for a change, Stanton’s team faced a strong Mariners’ outfit, on paper more than capable of disturbing their opponents’ play-off ambitions.

Anthony Caceres, Glen Trifiro, Nick Fitzgerald, Anthony Kalik and Matt Sim all have abundant A League experience, so they formed a sound basis for their coach, Joe Haywood, who took North Shore Mariners to the State League 1 title during the winter months, to go into the game with some optimism.

Of course the Mariners Youth team had its own regulars, like skipper, Reece Papadimitrios, Joshua Forbes, Ryan Peterson and Adam Berry, with the youthful prospects, Trent Buhagiar, Lachlan Wales and Steve Whyte, waiting to come on off the bench.

With that background we knew to expect a quality game, but after a slow start few would have been prepared for an eight-goal thriller!

It took almost half an hour for the deadlock to be broken and many would not have been surprised to see Central Coast being the team to get their noses in front.

They did so through A League regular, Nick Fitzgerald, who was left out of the A League starting eleven when the Mariners defeated Wellington Phoenix 3-1 on New Year’s Eve.

Anthony Kalik, another man out of favour, skipped past the offside-trap down the right in, the 28th minute and sent over a perfect cross for Fitzgerald to volley past a bemused Anthony Bouzanis at the far-post.

That at least galvanised the Sky Blues into action and they continued to press, eventually drawing level in the 41st minute.

Admittedly, Sydney FC had enjoyed plenty of the action before falling behind, with Daniel Araujo seeing a shot tipped over the bar by Adam Pearce, in the fifth minute and big striker, Charles Lokoli Ngoy, arriving too late to steer in good crosses on more than one first- half occasion.

Ali Abbas was getting forward at every opportunity, down the left and was showing up well, as might be expected.

His alliance with Stambolziev was looking promising, as the pair worked their way into the opposition defensive third with regularity.

In the 41st Sydney FC were able to draw level.

Skipper, Yani Spyrakis, found Ali Abbas on the left and when the Iraqi international whipped the ball in, Stambolziev did the rest at the near-post.

The same two combined again in the first minute of first-half stoppage-time, on this occasion Ali Abbas getting the benefit of a Stambolziev pass to lash the ball home from a tight angle to hand Sydney a 2-1 half-time lead.

With their tails up and supposedly controlling the game after the early set-back, few were surprised when the Sky Blues extended their lead to 3-1 in the 47th.

Bai Antonio burst through from the right and after his initial shot had cannoned off the left-hand upright, he buried the rebound clinically.

This after Lokoli Ngoy had missed another good chance to extend the lead.

At the other end, Fitzgerald had a good shot saved by Bouzanis in the 48th, while Stambolziev found the side-netting in the 51st for Sydney.

But it came as something of a  surprise when the visitors seemed to catch the locals napping in the 63rd minute.

Adam Berry – whose father, Steve, had a stellar career in State League, with teams like Manly, Blacktown and Bonnyrigg before retiring – got away down the right and the cross sat up nicely for the talented Kalik, who drilled the ball past Bouzanis with ease.

At 3-2, Sydney still had the initiative, but that lapse of concentration could have easily come back to bite them.

They failed to recognise the threat, as the Mariners threw on both Buhagiar and Wales, no slouches during the winter months with Peter Preston’s  Central Coast side in NPL2.

Wales got through well to put one narrowly over the bar in the 68th and still the Sky Blues played as if they could hold the lead with impunity.

Kalik, showing up well in this team, ignoring his lack of A League opportunities to take the game to the Sydney side, had already proven a handful, out wide, and his good finish earlier was proof of his effectiveness in Haywood’s side.

He got through the centre, soon after the near-miss from Wales, only to be dragged down by Sydney defender, Jacob Tratt and referee, Tim Danaskos, immediately pointed to the spot.

Glen Trifiro, always a useful man to call upon in such situations, took the penalty-kick with relish and gave Bouzanis no chance.

That, at last, woke Sydney from their slumber, to finish the game off as they had looked like doing for long periods earlier on.

Two good chances fell for the Mariners as well, Buhagiar and Sim both going close in the 78th and
79th respectively.

Two Sydney substitutes were needed to shake the game back into life and taking a leaf out of Joe Haywood’s Central Coast book, Robert Stanton sent on Cristian Gonzales and Emmanuel Gonzales, soon after the Mariners had drawn level at 3-3.

In the 80th, from Aaron Calver’s cross from the right to the far-post, Cristian Gonzales made it 4-3 with a cool finish and then in the 81st Emmanuel Gonzales did well to find Christopher Zuvela with a precision pass allowing the latter to slam the ball into the roof of Adam Pearce’s net for 5-3.

It had taken them some time to subdue the Mariners and even allowing for a constant change of personnel from one game to the next, this Sydney side will want to look for more focus over the entire 90 minutes of its matches after this wake-up call.

The fact that Ali Abbas had been withdrawn after 61 minutes may also have had something to do with it.

His return to A League action is eagerly anticipated by Sky Blue aficionados.

A good afternoon’s Youth League entertainment and a great chance to see some out-of-favour players aiming to make a good impression.

Match details

Crowd:  Approx 150

Sydney FC: 1. Anthony BOUZANIS (gk);  2 George TIMOTHEOU,  15 Jacob TRATT, 3 Aaron CALVER,   19 Ali ABBAS (11 Brendan CURTIS 61); 17 Christopher ZUVELA,  7 Daniel ARAUJO, 5 Yianni SPYRAKIS (c), 14 Robert STAMBOLZIEV,  9 Bai ANTONIOU (14 Cristian GONZALES 76),  12 Charles LOKOLI NGOY (18 Emmanuel GONZALES 70)
Sub Not Used: 20 Nicholas SORRAS (rgk)

Yellow cards: Bai Antonio 15, Christopher Zuvela 37, Daniel Araujo 61; Red cards: Nil
Coach: Robert Stanton

Central Coast Mariners FC: 1. Adam PEARCE (gk); 16 Marcus DUNCAN  (13 Trent BUHAGIAR 56), 3 Reece PAPADIMITRIOS (c), 4 Joshua FORBES, 5 Matt SIM; 6 Adam BERRY (14 Steve WHYTE 76), 8 Glen TRIFIRO, 10 Anthony CACERES; 7 Anthony KALIK, 9 Ryan PETERSON (12 Lachlan WALES 56), 11 Nick FITZGERALD
Sub not used: 20 Kane RUNGE (rgk)

Yellow cards: Adam Berry 41, Joshua Forbes 87, Anthony Kalik 90+1; Red Cards: Nil
Coach: Joe Haywood

Referee:  Tim Danaskos
Assistants: Patrick Teleki and Kearney Robinson; Fourth Official: Samuel Grasso

Points and ratings

Game: 8/10
Pitch: 10/10  (Synthetic)
Referee:  9/10

Players noted: Bai Antonio (SFC), Yianni Spyrakis (SFC), George Timotheou (SFC), Joshua Forbes (CCM), Glen Trifiro (CCM), Anthony Kalik (CCM)

By Corinthian