Northern derby draw at Mills

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

NSW PS4 NPL 2 Men – Round 19 – Feature game
3pm, Sunday 2nd August 2015  – Mills Park, Asquith

Northern Tigers FC 1 (Liam McConaghy 10′)
drew with
Spirit FC 1 (Daniel Cunningham 58′ pen)


This Sunday afternoon derby played in unseasonably mild, early August temperatures, at Mills Park, produced what could well have been predicted, a tense low-scoring draw, 1-1 on this occasion.

But that outcome disguises the fact that not only did Spirit FC miss a potentially match-winning penalty attempt, late in the game, but both defences survived multiple moments of danger to concede only one goal apiece, in a game that meant plenty for the hosts, Northern Tigers, but more than a little for the visitors, outright competition-leaders Spirit FC, as well.

Spirit had careered away at the top the table, seldom defeated; but coming off a midweek draw away to embattled St George FC and missing one of their success-stories of the season, the brilliant winger, Abraham Majok, they needed something from this game.

Majok missed the St George game, as well and while the player is not injured, his future could lie elsewhere, perhaps with an A League club, with whom he’s been trialling, though he is expected back to finish the campaign for his Spirit side.

Northern Tigers, having lost narrowly the week before on the same, bumpy ground, crucially to fellow Club Championship contenders, Hakoah Sydney City East FC, really needed to win this to retain even a glimmer of hope of winning that promotion-enabling title.

Their First Grade title-chance already gone, after losing to Hakoah, they needed points from all grades here, for a Club Championship tilt, but could only manage maximum points in Under-20s, winning 2-0, while losing 4-3 in the Under-18s and drawing the main match.

The 1-1 draw here virtually ended any slim hopes the Tigers might have held, but the single point was enough for Spirit to maintain their lead over Hakoah, though that’s now cut back to only six points, when at one stage it was as high as ten.

Their only goal came from a typically well-taken Daniel Cunningham penalty in the 58th minute, cancelling out a Liam McConaghy goal for the home side in the tenth minute.

Having beaten Tigers’ keeper, Matt Nemes, once already from the spot, the man who ‘never misses’ according to Spirit’s followers, Cunningham, must have had some self-doubt as he ran up to take his second spot-kick of the game in the 88th minute.

The veteran defender sent the keeper the wrong way, but succeeded only in slamming the ball against the angle of the right-hand upright, perhaps deviating from his tried and tested methods and being unsure if he could beat the same keeper twice with the same delivery on the same afternoon.

His attempt at variation proved his undoing and three points on offer suddenly evaporated to become just one.

Perhaps justice was done, as a 1-1 derby draw was a reasonable outcome, though Spirit certainly began the second-half strongly, after a slow start to the game and an average first-half from either team.

Far more opportunities were created by both sides in the second period than in the first, but Spirit’s better coordination and passing looked like leading to more goals from them than just the one they eventually had to settle for.

With corners and free-kicks in abundance for Northern Tigers, who lacked imagination in their dispatch of those frequent dead-ball moments, Spirit’s strong defence was given a good workout, but so too was the home team’s.

Spirit’s defence has been its big success story this term and they didn’t disappoint.

One firm shot from Tigers’ midfielder, Shervin Adeli, that Spirit goalkeeper, David Lowery, could only parry, allowed McConaghy to slam the rebound into an unguarded net, but that mishap aside, the visitors were as strong as they’ve been all term in dealing with opponents’ attacking efforts.

By contrast Northern Tigers’ keeper, Matt Nemes, was a very busy man and had his moments, a few uncertain handling issues not being punished by a Spirit side that had both evergreen number ten, Gosue Sama, and the hard-to-handle front-man Kuag Reec keeping the Tigers alert at all times.

When Sama wasn’t contesting for possession on the perimeters of the field, he was in the thick of the attacking action, narrowly avoiding sanction from busy referee, Stephen Lucas, as Sama seemed to be involved in every move that needed a firm tackle or a telling pass.

Finally in stoppage-time, as much in frustration at the missed penalty as anything else, Sama went into Lucas’ book.

But it was largely due to his efforts at midfield containment, as much as anything else, that the Tigers had to rely on the dead-ball for most of their chances during the game.

Their ploy of sending the ball wide to Tai Smith, out on the right, was one way of evading Sama, but only from one early cross did that tactic prove effective, with first Adeli and eventually McConaghy benefitting, to get the Tigers noses in front.

But similar later crosses from Smith were dealt with much more effectively and it was mainly from Paul Davies’ dead-ball crosses that Spirit looked at any risk and a lack of variety from those corners and free-kicks allowed the tall Spirit defenders to largely boss the penalty-area, though there were a couple of close calls, it must be said.

To some extent, perhaps, the efforts of home midfielders, Steve Baveas and Shervin Adeli, were cancelled out by the industry from Shama and  Ryan Johnstone.

The bumpy pitch, as poor as ever at enabling effective passing football, meant that both teams used hard running and high passes to compensate for the lack of build-up along the ground.

With Spirit’s own pitch at Christie Park, in a similar state, they knew how to play to the conditions, as well as the home team did, so most of the excitement came from goalmouth melee, rather than clever, creative football.

And yet the opening goal of the game had come against the run of play, albeit only ten minutes in, but after the first attacking move from the Tigers who’d endured a torrid opening spell from a hungry Spirit FC.

Staving off wave-after-wave of attacks and surviving by the skin of their teeth, to go a goal up, was a huge bonus for the home team, who then seemed to to cope far better with the Spirit assault for the remainder of what was to prove a rather uneventful remaining 35 minutes.

That all changed after the break, however, as clearly both sets of players had been read the riot act at half-time by their respective coaches as the two teams came out for the second-half breathing fire.

While Northern Tigers barely deserved their half-time lead, Spirit knew that they needed to do better to get anything from the match and that led to a much more action-packed second-half.

Both Kuag Reec and defender Nicholas Trimble had gone close for Spirit before they conceded, with Tigers’ keeper Matt Nemese flapping unconvincingly at a Brad Gibson cross, before gathering from Reec, whose shot after a sustained run had lacked any power.

Reec also offered a tame shot at keeper, Nemes, in the 18th while Gibson headed over in a frenzied final minute of the first half.

Henry Wells, busy on the right and Reec active on the left early in the second half had the Tigers stretched, with a cross from Wells somehow eluding everyone in the 50th before Nemes did well to save at his near post from Reec three minutes later.

When Wells was tripped inches inside the Northern Tigers penalty-area by Samuel Ryder in the 58th it was inevitable that Cunningham would step up and score. After all he’s done it so many times before, this season and seasons long in the memory for both Spirit FC and former club Ryde City.

Spirit had their skipper in a more creative role on the hour when he fed Reec with a through pass, but again Nemes did well to protect his goal at the near post and deny the rampant Reec.

Braden Cheng came on for scorer, Liam McConaghy, in the 69th and had a great chance with his first touch in the 70th minute.

Latching onto a fine cut-back from Shervin Adeli wide on the left, the substitute was well-placed to score at close-range, but to the dismay of home fans blasted his effort well wide of the left post.

Michael Rolston came to the rescue of the Tigers in the 81st clearing off the line after Johnstone had converged on a Gibson cross, with the keeper beaten.

Gibson then made way for Ossama Zaki who looked lively off the bench and soon the fresh legs of Tim Simpson relieved those of Ruag Reec, but it was the Tigers who launched more attacks as defender, Ryder, headed wide from one of numerous Davies’ corners in the 86th.

Then came the fateful tackle by the same player on Johnstone, that yielded the potentially game-deciding penalty.

It looked as if it would be all over for the Tigers, with Cunningham’s superb record preceding him, but the upright came to the home team’s rescue and stoppage-time was seen out without further damage to either team.

As the goalposts were being taken down, post-match and stored away for safe keeping until the next match at Mills Park, it was overheard that perhaps the inanimate right-goalpost could have made its move prematurely, to deny the Spirit captain, so certain was everyone watching that it would be game over at that instant.

After all that excitement and colour, it will be a case of monochrome on Tuesday night in Back of the Net’s next venture, in an FFA Cup outing at Leichhardt Oval.

Balmain Tigers will be wearing a brand-new all-black strip for their clash with A League champions, Melbourne Victory, who’ll be in all- white outfit.

Balmain are entertaining many VIP guests, including junior bodies like SoccaJoeys, whose work with autistic and other disadvantaged players has won high acclaim and who, like many others, have a strong attachment to the go-ahead club.

Joining them in the hospitality of the big occasion will be the Balmain club’s major sponsors including Grinders Coffee and Schweppes and invited guests from other clubs in State League 1 and 2.

Victory will no doubt expect to win it and the host club is under no illusions about the enormity of the task facing the players in unseating the Melbourne team, who will have a full squad at their disposal, with the notable exception of Carl Valeri.

That’s the next big event for BOTN and of course it will be televised live, but already 1,200 are holding tickets and many more are expected to converge on the famous ground in Lilyfield, to pay at the gate, with prices pegged at $10, which seems quite reasonable.

Match details

Crowd:  75 approx.

Northern Tigers FC: 1. Matt Nemes (gk); 6 Paul Davies, 4 Michael Rolston (c), 12 Russell Farrell, 2 Samuel Ryder; 18 Tai Smith, 3 Lucas Dawson, 16 Steve Baveas, 10 Shervin Adeli; 9 Liam McConaghy (17 Braden Cheng 69), 7 Matthew West

Subs: RGK 21 Harrison Devenish-Meares, 14 Julian Lim, 11 Mitchell Smith, 13 Jamie Craig

Coach: Steve Hurd
Yellow cards: Lucas Dawson 56, Michael Rolston 85; Red cards: Nil

Spirit FC: 41. David Lowery (gk); 19 Tom Lovell, 2 Daniel Cunningham (c), 4 Nicholas Trimble, 8 Grant Cornwell; 3 Henry Wells, 14 Ryan Johnstone, 13 Lord Darkoh;  22 Gosue Sama;  21 Kuag Reec (9 Tim Simpson 84), 12 Brad Gibson (10 Ossama Zaki 81
Subs not used: RGK 20 Michael Streeter, 5 Andrew Robertson  7 Jacob Harris,

Coach: John McLafferty
Yellow cards: Nicholas Trimble 43, Henry Wells 63, Gosue Sama 90+1; Red card: Nil

Referee: Stephen Lucas
Assistants: Alex Goodhew and Lily David

(not shown in photo – archive used)

Ratings and miscellaneous
Weather: Mild, mostly sunny, light gusty breeze
Game: 7/10
Pitch: 4/10
Players noted: Shervin Adeli (NT), Tai Smith (NT), Steve Baveas (NT), Kuag Reec (SFC), Gosue Sama (SFC), Lord Darkoh (SFC)

Photo: Archive photo of a coin toss at a previous Tigers vs Spirit game from 2012 (C Dunkerley)