Newly crowned Waratah Cup Champions for the second successive year Sydney United 58 continued its push for more silverware after defeating the Wollongong Wolves 1-0 in a round 13 rescheduled fixture at Hooka Creek Park on Wednesday evening.
The game was played at a high octane pace but it was the competitionâ€™s in form player in Panni Nikas who once again proved to be the difference scoring the only goal of the match in the 17th minute that gifted the visitors a precious three points and a step closer to sealing a Premiership trophy.
The Wolves causes werenâ€™t helped however in the 23rd minute when striker Nicholas Bernal was given his marching orders from referee Kris Griffiths-Jones for an altercation with Tomislav Uskok which left his side scrambling for the majority of the match.
Things started brightly for the home side as the Wolves had the ball in the back of the net on three minutes via a headed Chris Price goal â€“ Jubilation though turned to agony as the referee disallowed the goal for pushing in a crowded box which left United 58â€™s Japanese import Masato Mochizuki floored. The talented defender was stretchered off the pitch and was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.
Nikas soon came close to opening the scoring on nine minutes but his shot failed to trouble Wolves custodian Justin Pasfield.
It wasnâ€™t all one-way traffic and United 58â€™s in form keeper Thomas Manos needed to be brave with a last ditch tackle on Brett Wilson that prevented the Wolvesâ€™ striker breaking free on goal.
Then came the moment of pure Nikas magic as his dead ball into a crowded box eluded everyone and nestled in the back of the net to give Mark Rudanâ€™s men the lead.
The goal, his fourteenth of the season, yet again signaled his intention on wanting to once again return to the Hyundai A-League, such has been his performances in 2016.
Even so, Brendan Griffin could have restored parity but blasted a wayward shot well wide of the target before drama hit the home side as Bernal was sent from the field when reacting rashly to a challenge for Uskok.
Sydney United 58 could have increased the lead further when Zach Mackenzie was robbed of the ball in the centre circle that was played in to Chris Payne only for Pasfield to pull of an amazing stop to keep his side in contention.
Wollongong broke on the counter with Danny Lazerevski powering forward on a longÂ run that resulted in his shot being sprayed wide.
The first half whistle blew and with that came a relief for many as the match heated up courtesy of an early goal as well as a send-off that made the second half that more interesting.
Former Sydney FC defender Jacob Tratt played a nifty little flick to get past his marker and bore down on the Wolves goal once more in the 55â€™ minute however he too was guilty of firing wide of the mark
The Wolves responded immediately when a clipped David Stojic cross from the right was caught by the breeze and had Manos back peddling to see the ball nudge the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
Stojic was guilty of a foul on Nikas shortly after and shown a yellow card before being immediately replaced by Stefan Dimoski.
Manos almost gifted the Wolves a reprieve when spilling the ball and after several attempts by Dimoski, was finally cleared as the home side battled hard to create openings.
From a Griffin corner, Manos pulled off another remarkable stop when the ball was met powerfully by the head of Kota Kawase and the same player might have got on the score sheet on eighty-three minutes only for Manos to again tip the ball around the post.
It was a tremendous performance by United 58â€™s number one shot stopper who continued to thwart the home side.
Wollongong battled hard but were unable to find the net and United 58 knew they had been in a real dogfight as the game came to a close with the visitors taking all three points.
The win pushed Sydney United 58 FC nine points clear of second placed Blacktown City FC with the Reds taking on Parramatta FC at Melita Stadium on Sunday knowing a win would give them one hand on that Premiership trophy.