Canberra Croatia claimed an important 2-0 victory against ten-man West Canberra Wanderers at Deakin Stadium but had to wait until late into stoppage time to shrug off the persistent and resilient visitors who held on despite being a man down for over seventy minutes of the encounter.
Indeed, the team at the bottom of the National Premier League table were more than a match for the reigning League Champions for the majority of the game and can point to the relatively little that goalkeeper Kristian Nel had to deal with until late on, Croatia, despite all their possession, inaccurate in their finishing.
In a match in which centre-back Matt Grbesa celebrated 250 NPL appearances, the opening twenty minutes were even, the game swinging on the dismissal of Wanderers midfielder Doug Woodiwiss for a lunging challenge on Ryan Keir in midfield. Referee Bruno Kehl was perfectly placed only a couple of metres from the incident and had no hesitation in brandishing a red card.
If that was a hammer blow to the Wanderers, worse was to follow as the visitors felt the world was against them when Croatia took the lead just past the half-hour of the contest. The home side were awarded a free-kick some 35-metres from goal and, as the defence was lining up a wall, Jason Ugrinic swept a curling effort over the retreating players and into the corner of the net
It was a top-class finish, a goal worthy of bringing up a century of goals for the prolific Ugrinic, a testament to the vision and execution that was allied to perfection for a quite brilliantly taken goal. And yet Wanderers were aggrieved. They were waiting for a whistle that never came and found their misery compounded.
To their immense credit, they refused to buckle. Forced to defend in numbers and starved of possession, they fought like Trojans, Harry Truman providing a hard-running and tireless outlet up top, combining bulldozing breaks into Croatia territory with gut-busting defensive contributions at the other end.
He wasn’t alone. Daniel Grove, shifted into centre-back in recent weeks and showing his versatility and confidence in playing out from the back, was often a stumbling block for home attacks, most notably when he somehow stabbed a goalbound Ugrinic effort off the line when a second goal seemed certain.
The lively Ugrinic might have been celebrating a hat-trick on another night, denied again close to full-time by a classy diving save from Nel, extended to his full to the right, to claw away a curling effort.
Having lost both Christopher John and George Pavese within minutes of the second half to muscle injuries, it appeared inevitable that the Wanderers would eventually run out of steam, but it wasn’t until three minutes into stoppage time that their resistance was finally, and irrevocably, broken.
Nel magnificently denied Croatia substitute Daniel Barac with an instinctive reaction save but could do little to prevent Lukman Ahmed-Shaibu from knocking the loose ball into the net from close range for his fourth goal in his past three league and cup fixtures.
Wednesday 17 May
Canberra Croatia 2 (Ugrinic 32’, Ahmed-Shaibu 90+3’) West Canberra Wanderers 0
|7||West Canberra Wanderers||6||0||0||6||2||24||-22||0|
6 Josh GULEVSKI (Tigers FC)
5 Luca FLOREZ (Canberra Olympic), Maxx GREEN (Gungahlin United), Nik POPOVICH (Canberra Olympic)
4 Connor MYNOTT-SMITH (Monaro Panthers), Patrick O’ROURKE (O’Connor Knights), Own GOALS
3 Micheal ADAMS (O’Connor Knights), Stephen DOMENICI (Canberra Croatia), Thomas JAMES (Canberra Olympic), Micheal JOHN (Monaro Panthers), Clancy HISLOP (Tuggeranong United), Phakedi MANDA (O’Connor Knights), Nik TANESKI (Tigers FC), Jason UGRINIC (Canberra Croatia), Sam WALKER (Tuggeranong United)
2 Lukman AHMED-SHAIBU (Canberra Croatia), Riley ANGELOSANTE (O’Connor Knights), Daniel BARAC (Canberra Croatia), Jack GREEN (Gungahlin United), Amilio KISTA (Tigers FC), Kaz PATAFTA (Canberra Croatia), Roko STRIKA (Monaro Panthers)
1 Connor BILL (O’Connor Knights), Jake BISHOP (Tigers FC), Julian BORGNA (Tigers FC), Riley BROWN (West Canberra Wanderers), Kofi DANNING (Canberra Olympic), Elie DARWICH (Canberra Olympic), James DRISCOLL (O’Connor Knights), FERNANDO Jorquera (Gungahlin United), Josh GASPARI (Gungahlin United), Dom GIAMPAOLO (Gungahlin United), Sam HABTEMARIAM (Gungahlin United), Nikos KALFAS (Tigers FC), Niko KRESIC (O’Connor Knights), Ed MCCARTHY (Tigers FC), Nathen MEGIC (Canberra Olympic), Marko MILUTINOVIC (Tigers FC), Lasse OLRIK (Canberra Olympic), Jackson PAESLER (Gungahlin United), Euan PETERKIN (Tuggeranong United), Nicholas ROUFOGALIS (West Canberra Wanderers), Kyle SENIOR (Tigers FC), Callum SMITH (Canberra Olympic), Luke STEVENS (Tuggeranong United), Hristjan TANOSKI (Tigers FC), Antoni TIMOTHEOU (Gungahlin United)