A come-from-behind defeat of the league leaders, a shock upset of a top 4 veteran, and a third consecutive loss for the reigning Champions against a team on the foot of the ladder; Round 4 of the NSW NPL women’s competition was the round of the underdogs.

Match of the Round: Manly United v Bankstown City Lions

Bankstown City’s clash against Manly United at Cromer Park on Sunday afternoon may have seemed a straight-forward affair; Manly have finished in the top four every year for the past 4 seasons, while Bankstown have never done so.

However, it was the unassuming Lions who would come away with all three points after a dramatic tit-for-tat match finished 3-4 in their favour.

Indeed, it was the visiting side that struck first just six minutes into the game. After a lovely cross-field switch from Bankstown’s Ciara Fowler, the ball made its way into the box and found the feet of right winger Candace Sciberras. Sciberras then cut back towards the penalty spot for the oncoming Vesna Milivojevic, whose low shot beat Manly goalkeeper Nicole Simonsen at the front post. 0-1.

Bankstown were largely the dominant side in the opening 20 minutes as Manly struggled to work the ball out of their own half. Special mention goes to Bankstown’s central midfielders – particularly Milivojevic and Fowler – whose physicality, pressing, and clever passing made it almost impossible for the hosts to develop any kind of rhythm. In fact, the entire opening half hour saw Manly only create one decent chance on goal, when Sydney FC’s Ally Green received a scuffed shot-pass and charged into the box, but her shot was just wide of the front post.

Bankstown’s intense pressure would see them double their lead in the 31st minute, and it was Milivojevic on the scoresheet once again. After her initial shot rolled wide for a goal kick, Milivojevic stayed high, helping to press the Manly defence as they tried to play out from the back. Manly centre-back Grace Arnold tried to pass into the central channel but her pass was intercepted by Milivojevic, who was then all alone at the top of the box. She took once touch away from the backtracking Arnold, who tried to atone for her error by making a sliding challenge, and rifled her shot into the roof of the net. 0-2.

The visitors didn’t let up – their next chance came just seven minutes later as a long looping free kick found the pacey winger Amy Dahdah, who’d broken the offside trap and worked her way into the box. Dahdah tried to cleverly chip Simonsen but the keeper made an excellent diving save to keep the deficit to 2.

Manly could have pulled one back just a few minutes before half time as winger Emily Minett found striker Claudia Cholakian, who’d made an excellent diagonal run between defenders and into the box. Cholakian took a touch to steady herself and had a ding, but her shot came off the crossbar and was cleared.

The hosts headed into the half-time break 0-2 down, but would come out firing in the second half, setting the stage for a wild 7-goals-in-45-minutes thriller.

Manly were on the offensive from the kick-off. They created their first great chance in the 47th minute after a looping free kick was headed over the crowd of players and dropped to the feet of Minett. The winger’s volley-shot was headed for the roof of the net but for Bankstown goalkeeper Renee Krstanovska, who stuck out an instinctive strong hand to tip the ball over the crossbar.

This chance kicked the Bankstown back into gear, creating several opportunities of their own within the following ten minutes, including winning three consecutive corners. The 54th minute saw what could have been the goal of the game as Milivojevic delivered an exquisite back-heel pass into the path of Sciberras, who found herself one-on-one with Simonsen, but her low shot squeaked just wide of the far post.

It was a goal Bankstown regretted missing as Manly pulled one back within the next minute. A quick goal kick fell to the feet of Cholakian, who took a touch and threaded a perfect pass in to Minett, who had beaten her defender on her inside shoulder. Minett displayed some lovely technique to control the hard pass before slotting the ball underneath the onrushing Krstanovska and into the net. 1-2. Game on.

Manly’s renewed energy after their first goal was evident just minutes later as a poor back-pass from a Bankstown player put Krstanovska under pressure from the sprinting Ally Green, but the goalkeeper’s sliding challenge was well-timed and the ball was eventually cleared.

Despite this increased attacking momentum, it was Bankstown who would once again extend their lead in the 63rd minute. It was Milivojevic at the centre of the play once again, sending an slicing ball in between Manly’s left-sided defenders for Sciberras to run onto – Sciberras beat the sliding challenge of Manly’s left full-back before nutmegging the onrushing Simonsen to make it 1-3.

While majority of the chances over the next five minutes fell Bankstown’s way, it was Manly who would bring their goal deficit back to 1 in the 70th minute. Green made yet another charging run from the central channel out to the left wing before sending a wicked in-swinging cross into the box. Despite not being under pressure, the Bankstown centre-back stuck out a wild leg and the ball deflected off her and into the net. 2-3.

Manly would then level the scores in the 80th minute after a free kick was won just outside the area. Patty Charalambous stood over the dead ball and clipped it in, only for it to be cleared out to the top of the box, where Maddison Zahra was stationed. Zahra’s first shot was blocked, but her follow-up was rifled through the crowd of players and into the bottom right corner. 3-3.

The cheers from the Manly crowd barely had time to settle before Bankstown had the lead once again, coming directly from the restart. After some good pressure from Milivojevic saw Manly lose possession, Bankstown’s Sciberras picked up the ball and charged down the right wing. Her pass into the central channel found centre-forward Tania Baban, who controlled the bobble and slotted it low to the right of Simonsen. 3-4.

Manly would have a chance to equalise in stoppage time after being awarded a free kick from 30 yards out, but the resulting header went wide.

3-4 is how the game would end, with the impressive Bankstown City claiming just their second win of the season while finals veterans Manly fell to their third loss in four games.

Teams

Manly United: Nicole Simonsen, Claudia Cholakian, Patty Charalambous, Sunny Franco, Ally Green, Emily Minett (55′), Sophie Nenadovic, Bryany Parker, Hannah Peric, Nicole Stuart, Jane Vanzino, Cheyenne Wise-Jarvis, Grace Arnold, Gemma Van Weeren, Maddison Zahra (80′), Eliza Coleman.

Bankstown City: Renee Krstanovska, Naomi Nguyen, Cecilija Matic, Ciara Fowler, Diyana Cakavoski, Amy Dahdah, Maniso Micheal, Stephanie Ambrose, Genevieve Russo, Tania Baban (81′), Maryam Mostaghimi, Vesna Milivojevic (6′, 31′), Candace Sciberras (63′), Alicia Lee. OG (70′).

Around The Grounds:

Sydney University 1 – 2 FNSW Institute

Illawarra Stingrays 4 – 2 Emerging Jets

Sydney Olympic 7 – 0 North Shore Mariners

Northern Tigers 0 – 0 NWS Koalas

Macarthur Rams 1 – 2 Blacktown Spartans

Ladder:

Pos Team P W D L For Against GD Pts
1 Sydney Olympic 4 3 1 0 17 6 11 10
2 Illawarra Stingrays 4 3 1 0 12 6 6 10
3 FNSW Institute 4 3 0 1 9 5 4 9
4 NWS Koalas 4 2 2 0 9 3 6 8
5 Sydney University 4 2 1 1 11 5 6 7
6 Northern Tigers 4 2 1 1 5 3 2 7
7 Bankstown City 4 2 0 2 9 12 -3 6
8 Manly United 4 1 0 3 8 11 -3 3
9 Macarthur Rams 4 1 0 3 4 8 -4 3
10 Blacktown Spartans 4 1 0 3 6 11 -5 3
11 Emerging Jets 4 1 0 3 7 15 -8 3
12 North Shore Mariners 4 0 0 4 5 17 -12 0