Three games in seven days, nine points on offer and Balmain needing every one of them to stay in touch with the title race. We take a look back at a week that could make or break Balmain’s season in our mega massive never to be repeated once in a season week that was…
First up was the trip to Prospect for what every cliche-parroting football fan calls a “vital six-pointer”. Playing in the near-darkness of William Lawson Reserve at night actually seemed to play into Balmain’s hands – years of training at Birchgrove Oval had the boys pouncing around the pitch like a blind kung-fu master. Or not, as may be.
Anyway, returning from a three match suspension after a run-in with a foul mouthed Bathurst linesman, John Buonavoglia let everyone know he was back, slotting in a first half penalty awarded by none other than The Emperor, who quickly dismissed Prospect’s protests by threatening to lightning bolt anyone who argued. With players unable to see from one side of the pitch to the other, the game became a little scrappy, and let me see, my memory’s a bit hazy.. aah yes up popped Buonavoglia again well into the second half, drawing in three defenders and unleashing Hardwick down the right with a clever backheel. The ex-ballerina danced into the area and smashed one under the diving keeper’s body for 2-0. Prospect knew they were finished and Balmain relaxed, playing some of the best football seen in recent times. There was even time for Uri “the Nator” Kaye to blast one over the top with an open goal at his mercy. Buonavoglia picked up the man of the match award courtesy of the Exchange Hotel and the week had begun well.
Next up came a rescheduled fixture against the battlers of Hawkesbury City. Unable to secure a venue and feeling confident and eager to get the match out of the way, Balmain elected to give up their home advantage and switched the fixture to Hawkesbury’s Bensons Lane Reserve. No complaints about the pitch or the lighting there, and Balmain started strongly, dominating the first half hour and taking a 1-0 lead through Lozza “Robin Hood” Merlino. Things were starting to look up as the second half started, but what followed can only be described as a stunning capitulation. Hawkesbury equalised by bundling both the ball and Graeme Shannon into the net after he had saved the Tigers by stopping the ball on the line following a three man defensive blunder. Later, Balmain allowed an all too familiar runaway goal – a ball over the top, striker through, one on one, 2-1, goodnight.
Which brings us to the weekend’s “even-more-vital-six-pointer” at home to last placed Bathurst. Coach Kaltenegger rang the changes, bringing in four regulars from Balmain’s invincible reserve team in an effort to inject some enthusiasm and a winning mentality. Congratulations must go to Ibrahim Sesay, making his first grade debut from the bench. All looked well as Balmain settled into the game, played some good football, and were confronted with an opposition content to do nought but bang it long straight up the middle. Before I continue, let me say that if you could pick one game to sum up Balmain’s season so far, this would be it. About 30 minutes into the game and under little or no pressure, Balmain conceded the meekest of goals. A ball was hit into the box, an airswing and an unmarked striker later, Bathurst scored with their first shot of the match. Visibly deflated, Balmain went through the motions until half time, down 1-0 and looking very much out for the count. A rollicking was what they needed and it was what they got from Coach Kaltenegger, with more than a little help from Dave “Winston” Churchgrill.
A different team emerged in the second half, and they managed to all but utterly destroy Bathurst. Playing a high tempo passing game, with plenty of movement, Craig Andrews and David Parelli bossed the midfield, and Hardwick and Richardson began to cause trouble out wide. Sadly, Admir Smajovic received his marching orders for a second yellow, but there was a silver lining with a Bathurst player marched for running in and headbutting him right in front of the linesman. The equaliser came when Merlino headed Anthony Trieste’s free kick back across goal and Dan Ault was on hand to almost touch the ball as two or three Bathurst players bundled it into their own net. This resulted in Bathurst’s other shot of the match as they tried to score directly from the kick off.
Balmain created chance after chance but the winner just would not come. Balls fizzed untouched across the six yard box, shots went inches over the top, headers shaved the outside of the post, attackers were blatantly pulled back in the penalty box, and in one amazing sequence Uri Kaye attempted to prove to everyone he is Ronaldinho in disguise by hitting the crossbar twice within five seconds.
Still, Bathurst rode their luck, and emerged with a richly underserved point – one which takes Balmain’s destiny out of their own hands. Nothing less than five wins will do for the Tigers now, and even then they will have to rely on other results going their way if they are to rescue a season which has so far promised so much but delivered precious little.
Now if you’ve read this far then we know what you’re looking for, more news on the all conquering reserve team. Well, to tell the truth, they are so good it is boring. They demolished a good Prospect team 5-0 thanks to goals from Kaye (2), Hatzidavid, Emedi, and a Richardson cracker. Then midweek they battled out what was probably their hardest fought win of the season, beating both Hawkesbury and a very partisan local referee 1-0, thanks to a twice taken Sasha Emedi penalty kick. They have now moved to within a point of the title after smashing Bathurst 5-0 on the weekend – Uri Kaye scoring a hat trick including two penalties, with Sowden and Hatzidavid adding the extras.
The Tigers Reserves cannot be overtaken on points, and with a goal difference of 42 it would take an extraordinary turn around for them to lose the title now. However, an unprecedented unbeaten season is within sight, and with the title to secure on Sunday, it should make for an interesting game against Roosters, a team that the Tigers have only managed to beat twice in the injury time this year.