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Rockdale defeat Blacktown to bounce back!

Rockdale Ilinden showed its class and responded in the best possible fashion as they defeated a tough Blacktown City outfit 2-1 at Landen Stadium on Sunday.

The victory for Rockdale was made even sweeter as they spoiled Blacktown City’s ‘Back to Blacktown’ day where a number of the club’s ex-stars came out to support Mark Crittenden’s men but fell short in the end.

The visitors opened the scoring via lethal front man Alec Urosevski planting the ball into the bottom right corner from the spot. He added a second from the same area when thundering a shot home for a brace of penalty goals.

Travis Major replied with a quarter of an hour left to play, again a penalty, but it wasn’t enough to deny a determined Ilinden side.

With many eyes focused on the response, Rockdale needed a strong performance to prove the doubters wrong and maintained their push for the 2024 Premiership.

Stand-in coach Nick Stavroulakis, who filled in for the suspended Paul Dee, could not believe his luck when his side won itself a penalty inside the opening two minutes following a handball in the box by Ben Berry.

Urosevski stepped up and made no mistake sending keeper Tristan Prendergast, who initially made a great stop leading to the infringement, the wrong way to open the scoring.

City recovered quickly from the early setback and looked potent going forward however were guilty of several stray passes that Ilinden pounced upon but couldn’t capitalize. That and the new look back-line of the visitors who had twin towers and ex-Blacktown City players Roberto Speranza and Daniel Collins patrolling in more ways than one.

Jak O’Brien brought a super save out of Ricardo Rizzo in the 19th minute before Rockdale were able to clear their lines in Blacktown’s best move of the match to date.

Daniel Collins glanced a header toward goal from a Giorgio Speranza cross as Rockdale looked to extend the visitors lead but Prendergast was equal to the task while Mitch Mallia came close immediately after from a free-kick forcing Rizzo to palm around the post for a corner in the 28th  minute.

Urosevski was then put through with two defenders bearing down but the striker opted for an early shot instead of attempting to round Prendergast who completed a magnificent save very close to the edge of the area when making himself big to keep the scoreline at 1-0.

It was robust football with several heavy challenges in a fierce battle for superiority, especially either side of halfway, a simmering cauldron, referee Jake Rose did well to contain but Jak O’Brien was issued a caution and handed Rockdale a second penalty, again for handball, that Urosevski blasted home with no little aplomb. The Rockdale striker kept his nerve to thunder his shot straight down the middle to double the score which racked up his 22nd goal of the season, further distancing himself from the rest of the pack in the race for the 2024 Golden Boot.

Travis Major was presented an opportunity in the 42nd minute but the talisman somehow managed to blast beyond the woodwork in reply and Jak O’Brien curled one wide of the upright on the stroke of half-time.

Two goals to the good, and a deserved lead at the break, the visitors needed to be vigilant in the second-half from the expected City onslaught.

Action kicked off almost immediately as Collins headed a ball clear as Joey Gibbs pounced but a deflected shot allowed City a corner – but after a goalmouth scramble, a free-kick was awarded to Ilinden inside the opening minute of the restart.

Prendergast needed to be alert, the gloveman recapturing his form this season since returning from a serious shoulder injury last year, from a Brendan Cholakian shot he managed to steer around the post in the 54th minute, one of a number of fine saves needed to keep City in the game.

Major had the final effort, with three Blacktown players inside the Ilinden box, on the hour from a Mallia cross out on the left but again Rizzo got something on it to steer the ball away from danger.

Dean Pelekanos received a caution and gave away a penalty that Major supplanted perfectly to halve the deficit which was almost restored when Cholakian played a beautiful pass for Urosevski, looking to complete his hat-trick, who beat off the challenge of two defenders and beyond the diving Prendergast only to see the ball rebound back off the post.

Major replied with another glancing header at the other end in between a succession of niggling fouls which had been progressively creeping in to a very committed, full bloodied match.

It was a valiant effort but ultimately proved too big a task for City to pull it level on ‘Back to Blacktown Day’ leaving Coach, Mark Crittenden to state after the whistle.

“At the end of the day when you concede two penalties, one in the first couple of minutes, it’s a bit hard to take,” he said.

“I was disappointed with our effort in the first-half and thought they (Rockdale) came here after a battering midweek and made life tough for us, they were first to everything.

“We had a plan for the second-half to come out strongly and give it a good go as we always do, we won’t go down without trying in any game, that’s for sure.

“But overall, a very disappointing first-half from us.”

While it was a different mood in the opposing dressing room as Stand-in coach Nick Stavroulakis was proud of his chargers with their response but paid respect to a gallant Blacktown City.

“You can’t come to Blacktown City and think it’ll be an easy game, it’s always a tough fixture,” he commented.

“You know you’ll always be up for a fight here; I have massive respect for Mark Crittenden for what he has done not only for this club but the League as well. He is always pushing everyone around this league to better themselves so for any team to come to Landen Stadium and think it will be an easy task, they better think again.

“After Wednesday night, it was a massive reality check for us, we needed to come here today and show our resilience and to come back from that defeat and offer an apology to not only our club, ourselves and to our fans, so today was about ensuring our attitude was right for the match.

“If any player wants to put his hands on a trophy you have to show that resilience, attitude, commitment no matter what happens after each game. We still have nine games to play, and we know we have to show that fight in every one of them from now until the end of the season.

“We needed to bounce back quickly, and we’ve done so today but there’s another game next weekend against Hills United FC we now have to focus on,” he concluded.

Match Stats

Blacktown City 1 (Travis Major 75’p)

Rockdale Ilinden 2 (Alec Urosevski 2’p, 38’p)

Landen Stadium, Seven Hills

Sunday 23rd June 2024

Referee: Jake Rose

Assistants: Lance Greenshields and Maddy Allum

Fourth Official: Charbel Geha

Blacktown City: 1. Tristan Prendergast, 3. Jayden Trenkoski (17. Martin Fernandez 56’), 5. Grant Lynch, 7. Travis Major, 8. Jak O’Brien, 10. Mario Shabow, 12. Tyren Burnie, 14. Mitchell Mallia, 16. Benjamin Berry (19. Julian Rodriguez 88’), 18. Nicholas O’Brien, 23. Joey Gibbs

Subs not used: 11. Danny Choi, 20. Cayden Henderson, 22. Jacob Maniti, 42. Lachlan Henderson

Yellow Cards: Jayden Trenkoski 24’, Nicholas O’Brien 34’, Grant Lynch 39’

Red Cards: Nil

Rockdale Ilinden: 20. Ricardo Rizzo, 2. Daniel Collins, 4. Roberto Speranza, 5. Giorgio Speranza (9. Bai Antoniou 79’), 6. Isaac Danzo, 7. Alec Urosevski (3. Lachie Griffiths 89’), 8. Dean Pelekanos (22. Blake Ricciuto 84’), 10. Brendan Cholakian (77. So Kataoka 84’), 11. Lachie Constable (15. Yinka Sunmola 79’), 23. Hunter Elliot, 66. Mathieu Cordier

Subs not used: 28. Ronan Mulgrew

Yellow Cards: Giorgio Speranza 61’, Dean Pelekanos 74’, Hunter Elliott 81’, Yinka Sunmola 88’

Red Cards: Nil

Player Ratings

3 – Alec Urosevski (RI)

2 – Roberto Speranza (RI)

1 – Brendan Cholakian (RI)