14/04/2024

Blacktown City celebrate winning the final NPL NSW Men's Grand Final. (Photo Credit: Izhar Khan/The Inner Sanctum)

In a doubleheader at the Western Sydney Stadium on Saturday, August 27, the NPL NSW Under 20s and Men’s Grand Finals took place with four different teams in action, and one individual linked the two games together.

Under 20s – Sydney FC vs Mt Druitt Town Rangers

In the Under 20s Grand Final, it would not take long for the drama to unfold, as Mt Druitt would get off to an early lead.

A free kick would be awarded in a dangerous position to the Rangers inside the opening four minutes, and the ensuing play would see a penalty be awarded.

Despite an Andrew Redmayne impersonation from Adam Pavlesic, he would be unable to stop Rhys Osmond from opening the scoring in the fifth minute of play.

Drama would ensue in the 12th minute, as Sydney FC players felt they should have been awarded a penalty for handball, but it was waved away by referee Logan Jones, who is just 20 years old and was awarded the honour of officiating the match.

Sydney was lucky not to have made the uphill battle even harder in the 15th minute, as Mabior Garang would find his way in behind the defence and in a duel with the last Sydney defender which went all the way into the 18-yard box, but Jones would wave any appeals of a foul away.

In a first half that would be dominated by penalties, Sydney would be awarded a spot kick in the 28th minute, which would be converted by Luka Smyth, levelling the score between the two sides.

The game would take a giant turn, and send Sydney FC in the direction of a come-from-behind victory, in the 53rd minute as Mt Druitt’s Elijah Uelese would deliver a tackle to Ayouk Mow.

Uelese’s afternoon would be done as Jones would go to the back pocket and give the marching orders showing a red card, giving Sydney a player advantage for the remainder of the fixture.

After dominating the majority of the next 10 minutes, Sydney would find the lead after some disaster at the back from Mount Druitt and would give Smyth a brace from a tap-in next to the post.

Alen Harbas would double the lead for the Sky Blues after being left all alone inside the 18-yard box and would guide it on a tough angle past Mount Druitt goalkeeper Jerome Narayan.

Despite being a player down and with a two-goal deficit, the Rangers kept fighting and tried to get back in the game but to no avail, as Sydney FC would run out 3-1 winners in the U20s Grand Final.

The victory would get the day off to a fantastic start for Sydney FC Under 20s coach, Matt Sim, who would also be suiting up for Manly United in the first-grade game as a player, as he hoped to do the double.

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First Grade – Manly United vs Blacktown City

With Matt Sim hoping to do the double, he would be involved for the get-go from Manly, being named in the starting 11 less than two hours after coaching the Sydney FC Under 20s side to its Grand Final win.

It was a tense affair during the opening 10 minutes, and both sides felt they should have had calls go their way that did not.

Manly’s best opportunity in the first half would come in the 25th minute as a header from James Oates would be on target, but would go straight to Dylan Niski.

Tensions would heat up after a penalty appeal was waved away for Blacktown, which led to some pushing and shoving between the two sides and brought the game up another level. Blacktown thrived on the increase in intensity, with Lachlan Campbell sneaking in at the back post on to a loose ball to open the scoring.

Niski would be called into action again and was forced to make a save from a Kristian Santich shot to deny Manly an equaliser late in the first half.

Tensions would remain high early in the second half as Manly piled on the pressure and found what it thought was its opener, as a shot would find the back of the net after a Bruno Mendes strike took a deflection from Oates.

That deflection was a crucial part of the play, as the officials determined the deflection was off the arm of Oates and the goal was ruled out due to handball.

Manly would keep the pressure on consistently over the next 20 minutes but was unable to get the ball past Niski, who had to make some excellent saves to keep Blacktown in the lead.

The 60th minute would see a number of substitutions made, and while Jordan Smylie would not get the goal he wanted, he certainly put in a decent shift.

Despite all the pressure from Manly, Blacktown would hit on the counter as the referee played advantage on a foul, allowing Travis Major to sprint down the field and slide it around the keeper into the back of the net for his 100th goal in a Blacktown City jersey.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum after the match, Blacktown City’s captain Grant Lynch was full of praise of Major.

“To do it (score the 100th goal) in that situation and with so much on the line for us, so much pressure had been building up, it’s just the type of player he is, to be honest,” Lynch said.

“He’s so good in those situations.

“It’s pretty much why we brought him back and why he’s so good at this level.

“He’s just so composed and calm and physical and able to just finish the ball when we need him to.”

That goal would be enough to seal Blacktown the 2-0 victory, win Major the man of the match award, and walk out of Western Sydney Stadium with the trophy in the last ever NPL NSW Men’s Grand Final.

Travis Major scores his 100th goal for Blacktown City to give his side a 2-0 lead. Photo Credit: Izhar Khan/The Inner Sanctum

Manly United was certainly not outplayed by Blacktown and had the opportunities to equalise, but they, unfortunately, come up short in Adam Griffiths’ final game in charge before he departs to join the Western Sydney Wanderers coaching staff.

Lynch was also full of praise for Manly in defeat.

“Manly are an extremely tough team and the competition has been super tight all year,” he said.

“They were a really really tough team and put us under a lot of pressure.”

Exercising the demons of the week one finals loss to Manly, Blacktown came together as a squad and never gave up hope that it would walk out victorious.

“We felt we should have won that game and it was really disappointing to concede the few goals the way we did at that time,” Lynch said.

“We spoke about it through the week leading into that APIA game.

“We just spoke about how we were still fully confident in the group and that we truly believed we had the best squad in the comp and that if we did the right things and executed and stuck together as a team, we couldn’t be beat.”

But just how does it feel to win a grand final?

“[It’s] hard to put into words,” Lynch said.

“I think it will take a little while to sink in, but [it’s] an amazing feeling.

“It’s an incredible feeling to win it all and pretty much get what we thought we deserved last year.

“The chance to be able to do that and actually come through with it, we’re super happy.” 

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