In one of the most enthralling contests of the season, Manly United have booked themselves a showdown with Sydney Olympic in the Major Semi-Final after two last minute Alen Aganovic headers stole victory from Blacktown City after 120 minutes of football at Cromer Park on Sunday afternoon.

After an exhilarating end to the 2022 National Premier Leagues NSW Mens regular season, it was time for finals football for both Manly United & Blacktown City.

With both sides finishing the campaign in second and third spot respectively, an electric encounter was expected, with the winner set to play Sydney Olympic and the loser, APIA Leichhardt in week two of the finals.

In front of a strong Cromer Park crowd, a cagey opening followed as both sides struggled to create any clear cut opportunities.

Passing the midway point of the half, the encounter grew feisty quickly as referee Christian Verdicchio showed both Finn Ashton & Lachlan Campbell yellow cards within minutes

The game finally produced its first opportunity in the 30th minute coming via Manly’s Dominic Ferguson.

Receiving a Bruno Mendes layoff, Ferguson’s fizzing strike forced an expert save from Alex Robinson who did well to tip the ball over the bar.

Six minutes later Manly had another opportunity this time falling to defender Jimmy Oates.

Climbing highest to meet a Seiya Kambayashi free kick, Oates managed to get his head on the ball, however could only guide the ball high and wide from eight yards out.

With a minute remaining in the half, Blacktown finally conjured their first chance of the half.

A lofted cross to the back post found midfielder Jackson Bandiera, who after controlling the ball, released a goalbound strike, however the ball was smothered quickly by Oates from close range.

Coming out with intent, Manly created the first chance of the second half in the 48th minute.

Coming after Kristian Santich won the ball outside the area and charged into the box, an insightful pass found Mendes only yards out from goal.

The forward’s deft touch past Robinson was goal bound only for the custodian to clear it off the line via an incredible diving effort.

Seven minutes later, Manly keeper Jack Greenwood was called upon after Mario Shabow was played through down the left.

Closing in on goal, Shabow’s low left-footed shot was saved well by Greenwood, which was greeted by many a cheer around Cromer Park.

After another fiery period that saw three yellow cards in a matter of minutes, Blacktown had another golden opportunity in the 67th minute.

A pinpoint Jak O’Brien set piece delivery found Campbell six-yards out, however, the defender’s volleyed attempt flew just over the bar, much to the dismay of the Blacktown defenders.

Heading towards the closing stages of the ninety minutes, the temperature increased on the field as both sides went in search of an opener.

Thanks to textbook defending from both sides, neither was able to find a winner, so to extra time it went.

The first period started tensely with even half chances coming few and far between, however 12 minutes in, Blacktown broke the deadlock.

Moving down the right through Travis Major, the forward’s perfectly-weighted ball across the field found compatriot, Mitchell Mallia.

Bringing the ball down, Mallia released an exquisite half volley that flew low and hard into the bottom right hand corner.

Needing an equaliser heading into the second period, Manly pushed forward.

Their hopes of finding a way back into the contest suffered a telling blow with ten minutes left to play.

A poor challenge from Santich resulted in the midfielder receiving a second yellow card and was subsequently sent from the field.

With less than 90 seconds remaining, Manly found their equaliser.

Coming via a high, looping corner, Robinson’s attempts to clear the ball saw him miss it all together.

With the ball then dropping to Alen Aganovic, the defender made no mistake, tapping the ball in from a yard out.

It was time for a penalty shootout…or so we thought.

With one of the final kicks of the game, another lofter ball into the box found Alen Aganovic again, who headed home at the back post and wheeled away in celebration amidst a pitch invasion.

Stealing victory at the death, Manly booked themselves a date with Sydney Olympic next weekend in the Major Semi-Final, with Blacktown now set to face APIA Leichhardt in a do or die showdown in the Minor Semi-Final.

Match Stats

Manly United FC 2 (Aganovic 119’, 120’)

Blacktown City FC 1 (Mallia 102’)

Sunday, 7th August, 2022

Cromer Park, Cromer

Referee: Christian Verdicchio

Assistant Referees: Matthew Mcorist and Patrick Teleki

Fourth Official:  Sam Kelly

Manly United FC: 3. Jesse Piriz, 4. James Oates, 5. Thomas Fay (11. Matthew Sim 102’), 7. Seiya Kambayashi, 8. Dominic Ferguson (14. Dejan Pandurevic 60’), 12. Finn Ashton (17. Daniel Fabrizio 42’) (9. Benjamin Koop 102’), 15. Kristian Santich, 18. Lucas Rainbird (31. Max Martinello 109’), 19. Alen Aganovic, 20. Jack Greenwood, 22. Bruno Mendes

Substitutes Not Used: 42. Hugo McKay

Yellow Cards: Ashton 26’, Santich 40+1’ & 110’, Oates 57’, Piriz 59’, Rainbird 65’, Pandurevic 111’

Red Cards: Santich 110’

Blacktown City: 4. Lachlan Campbell, 5. Grant Lynch, 7. Travis Major, 8. Jak O’Brien (32. Hiroaki Aoyama 76’), 10. Mario Shabow (45. Danny Choi 91’ (6. Matthew Lewis 118’)), 12. Tyren Burnie, 16. Ben Berry, 19. Adam Berry, 24. Jackson Bandiera, 30. Alex Robinson (40. Dylan Niski 120’), 89. Jordan Smylie (11. Mitch Mallia 63’)

Substitutes Not Used: 21. Charles Mendy

Yellow Cards: Campbell 22’, Smylie 57’, O’Brien 74’

Red Cards: Nil

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