Balmain kept the championship chase alive with a 2-0 victory over the East Coast Magic on Saturday, and in doing so all but ruined the Magic’s finals aspirations. With both sides desperate for a win, the game proved to be a scrappy battle and only really came to life late in the first half when the Magic had their striker red carded for disagreeing with the referee. The game was interrupted for several minutes as the incredulous player had to be “escorted” from the field by a couple of match officials. The game remained scoreless until the half time break with Balmain unable to capitalise on the advantage provided by the extra man. The Tigers finally broke the deadlock 20 minutes into the second period when Daniel Ault connected with one of his trademark piledrivers from the edge of the area. Julian Bracewell then settled things in the final five minutes when he turned his marker and curled a beautiful left footed shot into the far corner of the net from well outside the box. Once again showing that age is no barrier, Tigers youth team sensation Chris Grayson was awarded the Exchange Hotel man of the match. So after 21 weeks the league winner will be decided on the final day, when the Tigers will be faced with the longest road trip of the season to Lithgow. With the other league contenders, Trasandinos and Kellyville, both playing opponents in the bottom half of the league, it looks as though only a win will be enough for the Tigers to secure the title.
Earlier the Balmain reserves overcame yet another player shortage, winning 2-0 in what was quite honestly a woeful spectacle. Having a squad of only 11 players to pick from, coach Kaltenegger was forced to start with several injured players including Tony “no knees” Mersaides and Steele “nose job” Bonus. In a very forgettable first half there were only two incidents of note, the first being when the referee awarded a free kick for a foul that he thought was outside the box. Chalk one up for the Birchgrove groundsman though, as his cunning plan of criss-crossing the field with multicoloured paint had confused the poor fellow and the foul had, in fact, occurred inside the box. The referee got one back though by deciding to make it an indirect free kick from which the Tigers could not score. The second incident was of course Balmain’s goal, courtesy of Jem Richardson, who smashed a shot through a crowd of would-be tacklers for his 20th reserve goal of the season. The second half was more of the same forgettable stuff until the referee again decided to liven things up by sending off Dylan Zammit after he unsuccessfully slid in for a tackle, missing both the ball and the player, and then viciously attacked a Magic player’s boot with his back while lying on the ground. In a moment of pure theatre, the referee first waved play on, then red-carded Zammit, then yellow-carded the uninvolved Magic captain, then asked the captain who it was who actually kicked Zammit, then yellow-carded him. Unfortunately for the aspiring comedian, no one was laughing in the end. Anyway, despite playing on with 10 men, of which only six or so were fit, the Tigers managed to add a second courtesy of Nose Job Bonus who cracked in a fine first time shot from the edge of the area. An all round commanding performance highlighted by a couple of excellent late saves earned keeper Matt Mullhall the Exchange Hotel man of the match, just edging out the star of the show dressed in black.