On a sunny Sunday afternoon in Sydney’s west, the Sydney United Sports Centre played host to Sydney United 58 and Western United in the Australia Cup Round of 16.
Sydney United was looking to keep their season alive with one last shot at silverware this year and advance beyond the Round of 16 for the first time in club history.
For the visitors, John Aloisi’s side was looking to keep the competitive football going before the start of the A-League Men’s season.
Inside the opening minute, Western United thought it had the opener through Josh Risdon as he shot it into the underside of the crossbar past Danijel Nizic, and back into the field of play instead of the back of the net.
Tempers started to flare in the eighth minute after a penalty appeal from Western United was waved away, and Chris Payne was involved in an incident off the ball with Ben Collins at the other end.
Western United would have the best of the opening 20 minutes, coming close on a couple of occasions, and dominating where and how the match was played.
The best chance for Sydney United in the first half would come through Yianni Perkatis against the run of play, but the shot was skied over the crossbar in the 28th minute.
Western United would once again rattle a shot off the woodwork, this time on the right side of the goal through Dylan Wenzel-Halls.
With the momentum in favour of the visitors, it seemed like it was only a matter of time until they found the opener.
Off a corner in the 34th minute, Western United would again come close, with another shot smashing into the woodwork, before being denied at point blank range by Nizic.
After the ball was cleared to halfway, a foul would see all 22 players head to the middle to get involved in a bit of a fracas, just to escalate the tensions and excitement a little bit more.
The result of that saw Perkatis and Tomoki Imai end up with a yellow card, much to the chagrin of the home crowd, who didn’t hide their displeasure in thinking the visitors should have been down to 10.
With less than five minutes remaining before half-time, Sydney United would push forward to try and find the opener to no avail, and Western United would hit on the counter to open the scoring in the 43rd minute through Connor Pain.
Western United would almost find a second but was denied by Nizic in the 45th minute, keeping the score at 1-0 to the visitors heading into half-time.
The visitors would start the second half, in the same way, they ended the first and come up unsuccessful on their first few forays into the attacking third. However, they almost fell victim to a counterattack.
It would be Sydney United’s turn to rattle the uprights this time around, as Perkatis would come up just wide of Jamie Young but on the wrong side of the left post and out for a goal kick for the home side’s best chance of the game.
In the 56th minute, the hosts would level the score, with Tariq Maia catching Young a little by surprise, and breathing new energy into the game which brought sections of the home crowd to life.
The visitors almost took the lead through Risdon in the 73rd minute, who forced a crucial save out of Nizic to keep it level with time running out in the second half.
Just four minutes later, Dylan Pierias thought he had put the visitors ahead, as he sailed a shot past Nizic, but the flag had gone up for offside.
Both sides would have chances late in the second half, but it was off to extra time level for a spot in the Round of 16.
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Both halves of extra time would start the same way the two halves inside the 90 minutes did, with Western United on the attack and unable to find a way past Nizic.
The best chance of extra time for the hosts would come in the 116th minute as Andrea Agamemnonos got deep inside the 18-yard box and sent one flying past Young, but into the left upright.
With neither side unable to find a ball into the back of the net, the match would be decided from 12 yards out in a penalty shootout.
After a tense penalty shootout, it would be the NPL NSW side, Sydney United 58, prevailing on penalties 4-3, and extending their season by at least one more match day to the Australia Cup quarter-finals.
Speaking post-game, captain Adrian Vlastelica had no trouble describing the emotions he, and the rest of his team, were feeling.
“We’re ecstatic. A huge result, at home, big crowd and it means the world to us,” Vlastelica said.
“We put in the hard yards all year, and it pays off on a day like today.”
Not to be lost was the performance of Sydney United goalkeeper Danijel Nizic, who kept his side in the game with a ton of key saves across the 120 minutes, as well as coming up strong in the shootout.
“It’s one of my best days in football,” Nizic said post-game to The Inner Sanctum.
“I’m so proud of the boys and it’s a day that I’ll… we all will remember. It was amazing.”
Not one to take too much credit, Nizic was very quick to deflect praise for his performance back to his teammates.
“I’m happy with my performance, obviously, you know, that’s our job. To make saves,” he said.
“Credit to the boys. They’re fit and they’re running. They’re constantly running 120 minutes. So that goes to them.
“I’m just there to help them and they pulled it off.”
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