Sydney United 58 have booked a spot in next weekend’s PlayStation 4 NPL Finals Series Semi Finals against Brisbane Strikers after a securing a thrilling 5-4 victory against South Australian Premiers Adelaide City at a rain soaked Sydney United Sports Centre.
The hero of the day was former Hyundai A-League player Panagiotis Nikas who bagged a hat-trick but it was a 91st minute spot kick courtesy of the PS4 NPL NSW Golden Boot winner Chris Payne that sealed Mark Rudan’s men a home tie once again against the Brisbane Strikers.
Goals were on the menu and it all kicked off in the 20th minute when Sydney United 58’s Japanese import Yutaro Shin grabbed the game’s opening goal. It was all down to some fantastic lead up work by Glen Trifiro who slotted a perfect through ball to Shin who calmly placed the ball beyond Ryan Veitch’s reach.
Three minutes later and the Reds extended their lead to two as Adelaide City defender Bradley Corbo brought down Payne inside the penalty area. Referee Ben Abraham had no hesitation and blew for the spot kick which Nikas smashed home.
Damian Mori’s men were chasing the match and although United 58 had absorbed much of the possession, the visitors hit a timely goal just before half-time through Joel Allwright. Amidst calls for offside from the United 58 defenders, Allwright broke free and slotted home making it game on as the whistle blew for half time.
The second half kicked off and as the rain bucketed down on Edensor Park so did the goals.
Nikas’ second was something special.
One of the league’s most talented playmakers produced something spectacular as he rose high above the City defence and acrobatically connected for a superb bicycle kick in the 57th minute which sent the home fans into raptures.
Mori’s men however dug deep and instead of giving up they went on the offensive and Allwright was at it again, adding his second of the match in the 60th minute with a neat shot that evaded a despairing Tom Manos.
It was 3-2 to the home side but there was plenty more action to follow.
Allwright, who caused major headaches for the visitors, was that man again, but this time turned provider in the 68th minute. The speedstar whipped in a majestic cross to City skipper Matthew Halliday who smashed home his header inside the 6-yard-box and made it 3-3.
Just when you thought things settled, the goals continued to flow and it was Nikas’ time to shine as he added to his tally of three goals in fine fashion after belting home a wonderful free-kick that hit the top left corner earning himself the love from the faithful fans who showed up in difficult conditions.
Adelaide City failed to give up and kept at it but their task was made that much tougher when defender Corbo was shown a second yellow card, receiving his marching orders in the 81st minute.
You’d think with a numerical advantage United 58 were assured the victory.
A minute before full time a fantastic cross by the elusive Mamadi Kamara found Anthony Costa who smashed home as Mori’s men began to believe again.
With the game destined for extra-time, luck sailed the way of Rudan’s men as in the 91st minute Nikas attempted another miraculous bicycle kick inside City’s box.
His resulting effort struck the hand of an unlucky Michael Acton and United 58 were awarded their second penalty of the match.
With pressure building it was Payne who had the responsibility of sending his side into the next round of the PS4 NPL Finals Series and he did just that as he roofed his spot kick into the back of the net taking the match 5-4.
In a match that had it all, three minutes of extra time concluded and the final whistle sounded as two former NSL giants slugged it out in an epic classic that will go down in the history books as being one of the most interesting battles played.
Afterwards Nikas was buzzing with delight upon seeing his team record a famous victory.
“It was a very exciting match; the fans would have enjoyed that one.
“I thought we dominated the first and most of the second but I felt we let ourselves down in some instances but overall we stuck to our principles of play.
“We played some good football and we were rewarded for what we set out to achieve and that was win this match.”
Asked about “that” bicycle kick, Nikas credited that moment during his time with the Beach Socceroos.
“I’ve been part of the Beach Socceroos setup for two years and I have to pay tribute to my time with them learning on the sand.
“I thought I was in a good moment, the ball sat up nicely and once again I thought I was back on the sand and just off instinct I produced that moment.”
With the Strikers booked in as their next opponents, Nikas remained focused that the team was taking things step by step.
“We will enjoy this week, get back to working on us and remain focused on scoring the same amount of goals and tightening up our defence for next weekend against the Strikers.”
While in the opposing dressing room it was heartbreak for City with Allwright praising his chargers in what was a committed performance by the South Australian side.
“We’ve had a couple of matches like this during our competition this year so we know how to adapt and play under these conditions especially being a few goals down.
“I felt it was quite an even match, we started to come good in the second half and we were rather unlucky with the penalty in the end.
“I am proud of how the team battled and even with a man down, if it went into extra time it could have gone either way.”
Sydney United 58 FC 5
Adelaide City FC 4
Referee: Ben Abraham