A pulsating grandstand finish saw Rockdale Ilinden secure a valuable three points with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Sydney FC at Rockdale Ilinden Sports Centre on Sunday evening.
Alec Urosevski opened the scoring for Rockdale, but Sydney FC hit back through Nathan Grimaldi before substitute Jamie Percevski powered home a header to lock up the win.
The result means the Sky Blues’ finals hopes will require a win against Mount Druitt and defeats for both APIA Leichhardt and Rockdale Ilinden
Experienced defender Mitchell Stamatellis was missing for the home side due to a niggling hamstring injury and both talisman ‘Special K’ Jaiden Kucharski and Adrian Segecic were out for Sydney FC.
Sydney FC created a five-on-two scenario when breaking quickly, but Clayton Taylor was guilty of holding on to the ball and was unable to pick the pass in the box to set his team-mates up due to Rockdale’s scrambling defence in an early warning of how dangerous the Sky Blues can be in transition.
Despite the fast start, neither ‘keeper was called into action in the opening quarter-hour with each side looking for the telling pass to unlock the resolute backline of the other.
Will Mutch finally tested Adam Pavlesic who managed to gather the ball at the second attempt with Alec Urosevski bearing down after 17’ minutes of play.
Pavlesic produced a double save when Rockdale broke down the right, firstly from Urosevski who took the ball in his stride and unleashed a left-footed thunderbolt the ‘keeper managed to bat down with the ball falling to Jaden Casella following up the Sydney FC man palmed over the bar.
A corner at the other end and David Bradasevic needed to get down sharply to his right post to keep out Luka Smyth.
He saved well again from the Sky Blues shortly after, but Rockdale broke and Urosevski opened the scoring in typical fashion to put his side in the lead and himself back on top of the Golden Boot standings with his 20th of the campaign.
It was a thoroughly entertaining half of football between two evenly matched sides but, most importantly, Rockdale had the goal advantage at the break.
Sydney FC weathered the early storm at the start of the second half and Nathan Grimaldi rose majestically at the back stick to head home from a corner to equalise.
Oscar Priestman, playing the skipper role and growing into the game, found the tightly marked Smyth who turned his marker and fired toward goal, but Bradasevic got a hand to the ball to send it wide of the sticks in what would have been a 60-second turnaround for the Sky Blues.
Jake Girdwood-Reich sent a blistering free kick narrowly wide, the visitors gaining the ascendency and Rockdale finding themselves being pressed back in their own half.
Casella tore down the left and centred for Mutch who couldn’t get it under control and get his shot away in time before the defence closed him down.
Nikola Kuleski then fired one in from fully 30-yards that had Pavlesic beaten but bending the wrong side of the post.
With both goals coming under threat it was Rockdale substitute Percevski who restored the home side’s lead when heading home Ilinden’s second of the match with twenty minutes remaining.
Sydney FC threw caution to the wind in the latter stages, leaving themselves vulnerable to the counter, but a madcap series of events in the Rockdale area left them holding their heads at the combined desperation and, it has to be said, sheer luck that kept the ball out of the net.
It was impossible to tell who did what in the sea of arms, legs and bodies being thrown around but the young Sky Blues were adamant they should have been awarded a penalty during the mayhem.
Both coaches were pleased with the effort but the result left Sydney FC’s Jim van Weeren to rue.
“It’s about converting chances, Rockdale did that today and we didn’t.
“We created plenty, had the ball cleared off the line but could have had three or four but when you don’t take them, this is what happens.
“We knew this would be a tough game against a top side and we know perhaps a few results now need to go our way for our top five aspirations, but it means we have everything to play for here against Mt Druitt Town Rangers next week.
“It really a must-win for us next week regardless and it gives us an opportunity to bounce back but Rangers can score goals so we are expecting another tough outing next week.”
For Rockdale in their final regular season home match for 2022, coach Steve Zoric had nothing but praise for his charges.
“It was a character-building match for us,” he said.
“I thought we played well in patches but so did Sydney FC.
“They are a strong side and have done extremely well to be where they are in the table this season.
“They really brought the game to us and we had to deal with that, and their pace in behind, and battle hard to get the points.
“We cleared off the line when they could have buried it, transitional play was quick and direct, they are a very tough side to beat.
“In the end we showed a lot of desperation today plus character and work ethic and I couldn’t be prouder of their efforts on the pitch this afternoon.”
Rockdale Ilinden 2 (Alec Urosevski 30’, Jamie Percevski 70’)
Sydney FC 1 (Nathan Grimaldi 56′)
Rockdale Ilinden Sports Centre, Rockdale
Sunday 24th July 2022
Referee: Kurt Ams
Assistants: Joon Park and Ivica Covic
Fourth Official: Hadl Al-Nakeeb
Rockdale Ilinden: 1. David Bradasevic, 2. Daniel Petkovski, 5. Will Mutch (11. Peter Kekeris 72’), 6. Daniel Araujo (19. Patrick Savor 55’), 7. Alec Urosevski, 8. Nikola Kuleski, 9. Bai Antoniou, 14. Brayden Sorge, 23. Jaden Casella, 25. Alex Mascioveccio (15. James Percevski 61’), 88. Chris McStay
Substitutes Not Used: 16. Mo Ahmed, 17. Vincent Fedele, 31. Matthew Murram,
Yellow Cards: Jamie Percevski 81’, Peter Kekeris 88’
Red Cards: Nil
Sydney FC: 30. Adam Pavlesic, 4. Nathan Grimaldi, 8. Kealey Adamson, 9. Ben Gibson (7. Tiago Quintal 82’), 12. Jake Girdwood-Reich, 13. Clayton Taylor, 15. Luka Smyth, 18. Oscar Priestman, 25. Morrie Kamara (19. Joseph Calusic 46’), 28. Louis Agosti (16. Matthew Scarcella 72’), 37. Hayden Matthews
Substitutes Not Used: 14. Ayouk Mow, 20. Max Vartuli, 21. Dylan Rose
Yellow Cards: Luka Smyth 52’
Red Cards: Nil
By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Reporter Micky Brock