A sense of urgency in close result

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

NSW S4 NPL 2 Men – Round 20 feature game
7:30pm, Saturday 8th August 2015 – Hensley Athletic Field, Pagewood

Hakoah Sydney City East FC 1 (Deklan Gilmartin 25′)
Bankstown Berries FC 0

As we draw ever-closer to the end of the 2015 NPL2 season, these crucial matches are becoming more and more appealing, though the quality of football on offer has less to do with it than the sense of urgency from both competing teams.

Hakoah Sydney City East have been in good form of late, winning some of their matches narrowly, yet remaining strong candidates to overhaul long-time First Grade leaders Spirit FC, with the title likely to go down to the wire.

Bankstown Berries, their opponents on Saturday night at Hensley Athletic Field, were on a long unbeaten run coming into the game, with their Finals’ chances still on the line, as they vie with the Bankstown neighbours, the City Lions, for the remaining fifth spot.

The top-four has been mostly sorted now, only top spot is unclear, with Spirit holding a six-point lead over Hakoah, who have a midweek game in hand away to Mount Druitt Town Rangers.

The gap remained at six points after Hakoah won this one 1-0 against the Berries, who were far from disgraced, it must be said.

With Spirit beating Macarthur Rams 4-1 the following day, Hakoah knew they had to win at Popondetta Park on Wednesday night to narrow the gap to three points going into the final two weekends’ of competition.

Their game this coming Saturday night against Mounties FC at Cook Park, Mount Pritchard, is a match that won’t be straightforward, by any means, but it does give Hakoah a fighting chance of taking all three points.

That ground is also the venue for Spirit FC’s final round match the following weekend, against that same Mounties FC outfit.

Meanwhile, The Berries will entertain Spirit FC at The Crest this Saturday night, needing a win to hold off rivals Bankstown City who are also close to grabbing that all-important fifth spot.

The Berries’ own season finishes at Popondetta Park, so both the Mounties and Mount Druitt will have a big say in matters pertaining to the top-five places, though neither will play any other part in that series, this term.

A win over Spirit on their own patch by The Berries on Saturday night would do Hakoah a favour, but they were in no mood to do them any favours here.

In the end their usual stirring finish in this Saturday night match, watched by a crowd rugged-up against the chilly night air, was not enough to snatch a late goal, or even a point.

Hakoah struck the woodwork twice in the second-half, most of their best moves coming on the counter-attack, as The Berries pushed hard for the equaliser, or even a late winner.

The visitors lost key striker Ilkay Gurbuz to injury late in the first-half, but had an ideal replacement in Dimitri Zakilas, who always made a nuisance of himself. The Berries were also missing midfielder, Jake Bradshaw, whose recent form has been very solid.

But the most impact, off the bench, came through the efforts of Nick Paras, who’s struggled with injuries himself this season, but tried hard to make the most of his chance of some game time, over the concluding 23 minutes here.

Hakoah made one key change to their starting line-up, coach Mark Robertson putting his faith in young keeper, Jair Fernandez, who made his debut in place of the very capable Matthew Symes.

Symes, it was explained, had been with the club on loan from Sydney FC,initially, but released by the Sky Blues, had elected to trial with Newcastle Jets, in midweek, in a friendly match.

He picked up a knock and wasn’t risked here, though declaring himself fit to play, if needed.

Robertson pointed out that were the Jets to make any move for Symes, it would be better to have Fernandez given some first team exposure ahead of the Finals, in the event that Symes might be called away.

The young keeper certainly had some nerves to overcome, as Hakoah chase the Club Championship with every point counting in all three grades.

That was certainly the case here, with Hakoah clinging on for dear life to the lead in the Club Championship, with a win and a draw in the earlier games at Hensley Field.

Fernandez made some saves, but also looked a little uncertain at times, penalised once for stepping outside his area with the ball and having a few slight communications issues with fellow defenders. Hakoah managed to stand up to any threat from the ensuing free-kick conceded by their inexperienced keeper, thus saving him any embarrassment.

Fortunately, he managed a clean sheet throughout and that was vital, as The Berries threw plenty at him in their customary late surge, which saw Hakoah defenders getting behind the ball and repelling efforts from Zakilas and from Paras in particular.

The only goal of the game came in the 25th minute and it was a quality strike.

Combative midfielder, Deklan Gilmartin, began the move and finished it as well, advancing through the middle before sending a pass wide, to his captain Neil Jablonski, lurking out on the right.

Gilmartin continued his run into the goalmouth where he arrived in time to see Jablonski’s cross giving Berries’ keeper, Michael Frost, some difficulty as he could only manage to parry the ball which fell nicely for Gilmartin to lash home at close-range.

Jablonski nearly scored a second for his team,  as the half-time whistle drew near, with a lob which struck the post, after initially appearing to beat the stranded keeper, who was much relieved to catch the ball as it bounced back off the woodwork.

Hakoah’s two-pronged attack of Mick McCrory and Jablonski kept The Berries busy every time they could make any sort of raid, but for the most part it was the home team doing the defending and making a very good job of it too.

The defence had to block or clear a number of times, no doubt conscious of their need to protect their deputising keeper, but a few off-target efforts from Paras and Zakilas also helped the promotion-chasing Hakoah to keep a clean sheet.

“I said before the game that one goal would settle it,” said The Berries’ beaten coach Wally Savor.

“But it was a good game and I can’t fault my team. It was always going to be a tough game today.

Hakoah coach, Mark Robertson, also felt his team had played well.

“We could probably have won by more than one, but I’m still very happy with the performance,” he declared.
Match details
Crowd:  120 approx.

Hakoah Sydney City East FC: GK 41 Jair Fernandez; 19 Jacob Esposito, 2 Remy Wolanski, 4 Bradley Walker, 17 Joseph Dingwall; 10 Deklan Gilmartin, (29 Harry Jones 71), 11 Gavin Rae,  16 Brad Paikin, 8 Paul Orgad; 9 Neil Jablonski (C), 26 Federico Kertscher (5 Michael McCrory 30)
Subs not used:  RGK 1 Matthew Symes,  44 Nicholas Mouzourakis

Coach: Mark Robertson
Yellow cards: Gavin Rae 15, Neil Jablonski 15, Deklan Gilmartin 69, Bradley Walker 89; Red card: Nil

Bankstown Berries FC: GK 1 Michael Frost (C); 18 Matthew Trotter, 3 Liam McKenna, 16 Milan Zoric, 12 Mitchell Davidson; 2 Andrew Vitucci (14 Nicholas Paras 67),  10 Jun Kato, 21 Peter Dimitropoulos, 7 Kyle Ewart;  11 Joel Anscomb; 17 Ilkay Gurbuz (19 Dimitri Zakilas 43)
Subs not used: RGK 41 Stefan Giglio, 4 Omar Saadi

Coach: Wally Savor
Yellow card: Nil; Red cards: Nil

Referee: Adam Susz
Assistants: Lance Greenshields and Janush Adabjou

Ratings and miscellaneous

Weather: Rather cold. Dry, but with a light, icy breeze
Game: 6/10
Pitch: 10/10 (Synthetic)

Players noted: Gavin Rae (HSCE), Brad Paikin (HSCE), Remy Wolanski (HSCE), Deklan Gilmartin (HSCE), Nicholas Paras  (BB), Milan Zoric (BB)