The First Grade Men’s team travelled to Hensley Athletic Field on Wednesday night to take on UNSW in a deferred match from Round 14. It’s tough enough playing midweek in Sydney however with rain falling throughout the match, it made things that much tougher.
The team had not played since 18 June (18 days) and there had been some squad changes since then. The team has lost goalkeeper Luke Morgan for the remainder of the season with injury with Under 20 Goalkeeper Riley Nicholl getting a start. Illness and injury also saw 18 year old Aidan Chard start at the back beside the reliable Dean Pender at the back whilst the club has recruited two Japanese players in the window in Araki Naomichi and Sakashita Mitsuru. The club also welcomed back Jayden Smileski who recently returned from a stint in US College Football.
It was a tentative start for both sides over the first ten minutes however the game quickly sprung to life with both teams scoring from the first real opportunities.
On 13 minutes, UNSW opened the scoring when Kevin Lopes got on the end of a corner to head the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
Just two minutes later, a speculative long ball skidded through Smileski and into the path of Dylan Walz who neatly tucked it past Nicholl to give the students a two-goal lead.
Just a minute later however, a freekick from Jack Balmforth out wide somehow missed everybody in a crowded goal area and fell nicely to Pender who snuck in at the far post unattended. He half volleyed the ball home to immediately pull a goal back for Flame thus scoring his first goal for the club.
The game settled a bit thereafter however the crazy first half just kept giving when on 31 minutes, a cross from UNSW to the far post looked to be going well long however it struck the back of Fabian Iacovelli and fell nicely to Lopes who from five yards took his opportunity giving the students their two-goal buffer back.
On 38 minutes, Flame got themselves back into the match when a cross was only partially cleared. It rolled to Matt Mazevski who was lurking just outside the box. He unleashed a first-time half volley from 25 yards spectacularly rocketing the back of the net.
And just before the half time whistle, Flame thought they had equalised. UNSW Goalkeeper Yanni Mavrikis appeared to drop the ball from cross and Zander Alston was on hand to clean it up however the match official saw something we didn’t and disallowed the goal.
This appeared to be a turning point in the match as both teams went into the break to take a breath. Just two minutes after the resumption, a speculative shot from a UNSW player took a deflection high in the sky and it landed on top of the cross bar. With Keeper Nicholl scrambling, the ball fell back into play to the waiting Mike Kenny who tapped into an open goal.
This seemed to rattle Flame as moments later, veteran Nima Beik had a one on one opportunity to put the game to bed but skied the ball well over the bar.
In another stroke of misfortune, a delightful through ball from Smileski found Sam Alston through on goal and just as he was about to pull the trigger, the match official elected to call a free kick on a late challenge on Smileski denying Flame a strong chance at pulling a goal back.
To top it off, on 67 minutes, Walz received the ball just outside the corner of the penalty area and from what looked like it was meant to be a cross, looped over the head of Nicholl and into the top corner to round off the scoring.
Coach Darren Jones emptied the bench in the last 15 minutes giving Ryan Chard, Alex Pappas and young Jay De Gouveia a run.
Flame had two great opportunities inside the last ten minutes with Smileski forcing a top draw save from one and having his second opportunity go just wide.
In the end, the score line read 5-2 however, it probably was not a strong reflection of the game. Credit to Flame for battling through the elements and never giving up.
The boys will now start their preparations for Saturday’s must win match against Camden.