South Coast Flame have made it back to back wins with a gritty performance against an inform Hurstville FC side that was handed their first loss of the season at a sun swept Ian McLennan Park (The Furnace).
To be fair, Hurstville perhaps started the better of the two sides early with good passages of possession as they looked to probe the Flame defence.
Hurstville had golden chance to hit the lead as early as the 7th minute when Jesse Gagro flicked the ball over the Flame defence and found Julian Bittar through on goal with a bouncing ball. Bittar tried to chip the advancing Luke Morgan however he managed to smother well.
Just five minutes later, Hurstville butchered an opportunity which probably in the end has come back to haunt them. Gagro squeezed through the Flame defence and drew Morgan beautifully before squaring to Yianni Nioplias who inexplicably hit the cross bar from six yards.
This seemed to serve as a wake-up call to Flame as not long after, the home side started to get back into the match. A great little combination between Aden Wade and Fabian Iacovelli saw the latter shoot high from a narrow angle however the tide was starting to turn.
Flame were starting to chase down balls and put pressure on the Hurstville midfield and backline.
On 28 minutes, Balmforth played a delightful ball over for Iacovelli who managed to just get past his defender before crossing straight across goal to Zander Alston who just needed a solid touch that would have surely put Flame ahead.
The pressure was starting to tell as a stray back pass from Dario Borovickic on 34 minutes was inches away from being intercepted which would have left the Hurstville keeper in no mans land.
Just a couple of minutes later, Iacovelli’s close range snap shot was skied over the bar after a corner goal mouth scramble. Hurstville appeared to be unusually nervous at the back as Flame piled on the pressure.
Flame got the breakthrough on 42 minutes when a throw in from the corner found Alex Gailbraith who put his head down and after some clever footwork, beat his defender as he ran along the goal line towards goal. He drew the goalkeeper before cutting back to Iacovelli who made no mistake.
Through a combination of good luck and desperate defending, Flame weathered the early storm to gain the ascendancy and lead 1-0 at the break.
Flame looked to start the second half with great confidence as their ball possession and loose ball win percentage shot up.
On 57 minutes, Balmforth who was a nuisance to the Hurstville defence all day as he weaved his way through traffic and into the penalty area before being bundled over. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Matt Mazevski stepped up and calmly placed it beyond the outstretched arms of Michael Rutherford to put Flame up 2-0.
Flame nearly made it three when Rutherford lost his footing on the edge of the box as he came out to collect a ball. Balmforth was on hand to pick up the loose ball and after rounding the grounded keeper, he played the ball from out wide into an unguarded goal however a desperate goal line clearance from Borovickic denied Flame.
This seemed to spur on the visitors as Juan Botero’s 25 yard effort on 68 minutes only just went wide.
Just 5 minutes later though, Hurstville made in game on. Flame failed to clear their lines from a corner kick and Gagro’s effort from the edge of the box somehow alluded everyone in the box and found it’s way into the bottom corner of the net.
All of a sudden Flame were starting to look nervous and sitting slightly deeper as they were looking to absorb the Hurstville raids.
On 82 minutes however, disaster struck for the visitors as Flame broke quickly in transition and Iacovelli did ever so well to flick the ball up, over and past Borovickic who recognising he was beaten dragged down Iacovelli just outside the box. He was subsequently shown a red card and Hurstville’s job all of a sudden just became harder.
In the last minute of the game, a quick throw down in the corner saw Balmforth once again dance around his opponent before whipping the perfect ball deep on the far post to the waiting Taylan Skurtevski who headed into the roof of the net from close range to effectively seal the win.
There was time for one last attacking raid for Flame as Wade dissected the Hurstville defence before finding Skurtevski on the far post again however this time, he couldn’t quite find the same purchase as the chance went begging.
Nevertheless, Flame were not to be denied in front of a healthy home crowd the three points.
Flame travel to Newcastle next week full of confidence.
In the earlier game, Flame went down 3-1 to Hurstville after having Luke Hoefsloot sent off for a last man challenge inside the opening five minutes.
The home side were unable to maintain enough possession as the visitors did well to move Flame around patiently as they bide their time.
Midway through the half, Christos Panayides’ half volley from 25 yards beat Riley Nichol to give Hurstville the lead. The visitors doubled their lead not long after with a speculative shot also from the same range finding the back of the net.
Despite playing with ten men, Flame came out firing in the second and started to find some chances of their own. A brilliant strike from the edge of the box mid-way through the second from Jordan Wright gave Flame a glimmer of hope however Panayides iced the game 15 minutes from time with another long range well taken goal.