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Rockdale Ilinden retook the lead on the league ladder in the fight to be crowned 2024 National Premier Leagues Men’s NSW Premiers as they defeated local rivals St George City 2-0 at the Ilinden Sports Centre on Sunday.

The game itself was sliced wide open in the 12th minute when competition top scorer Alec Urosevski was brought down by goalkeeper Jack Kenny almost on the edge of the box and experienced whistle-blower Craig Fisher was right there to award the home side a penalty. The Rockdale marksman brushed himself off and took the spot kick to beat ‘keeper Kenny who was rooted to the spot on his own goal line.

Halfway through the first stanza of play St George City had a good opportunity when a corner by Nathan Roberts reached captain Tarik Ercan at near post who attempted to flick it on, but a slight deflection knocked it just over the crossbar for another corner.

In the 25th minute a defensive error by the visitors almost gifted Rockdale Ilinden their second goal. However, Brendan Cholakian fired over the top of the target with both the goal at his mercy and the goalkeeper stranded in no-man’s land. It is usually bread-n-butter stuff for the experienced Cholakian but it shows that even one of the best can make unforced errors.

In the 34th minute a free-kick by Jason Romero beat all and sundry but sailed narrowly wide of the post as St George tried to even the scores.

Rockdale then pressed forward just prior to the break and Isaac Danzo shot from just outside the box, but an alert Kenny was there to neutralise the attempt.

After the break the first opportunity belonged to Ilinden in the 53rd minute when Cholakian threaded the ball delightfully from the left to meet Urosevski in the middle, but the mercurial finisher this time pushed his shot across the entire face of the goal and just wide.

St George City coach Mirko Jurilj showed his frustration with his side making a quadruple substitution on the hour mark to shuffle the playing cards, but it didn’t really change that much.

In fact it was Rockdale’s Olayinka Sunmola in the 60th minute, with his fist touch of the game, that almost produced a goal. He tried an audacious chip from inside the box that brought out the absolute best in goalkeeper Kenny, who turned it over the crossbar for a corner in what would have been an amazing entry onto the field.

A few minutes later a Cholakian corner reached Blake Ricciuto at the far post but he headed into the side netting from close range and then in the 74th minute Lochlan Constable fired a shot across the face of goal from the left, much to the frustration of the home supporters.

St George City’s afternoon took a further downward slide when Dominic Cox received his second yellow in the space of 13 minutes and the visitors were forced to play the remaining minutes with a numerical disadvantage.

Rockdale Ilinden then took full advantage in 89th minute when Sunmola fed the ball beautifully to Mathieu Cordier who slipped it past goalkeeper Kenny in what was an easy goal in the end for the home side.

After the game,  Rockdale Ilinden coach Paul Dee was very pleased with his side but was certainly keeping a lid on things despite reaching the top of the table.

“Here at home against a good opponent and keeping a clean sheet is a very good outcome, so we are pleased with today’s performance,” he said.

“I think we were quite resilient at the back and that set us up through midfield. We dominated possession and created a number of really good scoring opportunities and the soundness of our structure really set up the win.

“It’s such a tight competition that you need to stay focussed on every game. Whatever team applies itself most on the day comes out on top, and so we need to stay focussed on what we are doing week by week.”

However, over in the St George City dressing room Mirko Jurilj, coach of St George City was clearly a disappointed figure.

“We were poor in almost every aspect,” he commented. “We were second to most things today and, while Rockdale is definitely a good team and there’s no doubt about that, we need to ask some questions of ourselves.

“Technically we were poor, so we will work on everything during the week. We set the tone from the beginning as we sat deep and that’s not the way we want to play. We needed to press the ball and, while we were in the game up until the end on the scoreboard, we really didn’t look like scoring. The onus is on us now to be more consistent because some things are not acceptable for me.”