Manly United will face stiff opposition when they take on third-placed Rockdale-Ilenden on Friday night at Cromer Park.
United is in fifth position on the NSW National Premier League ladder after a confidence-boosting 2-2 draw away to Blacktown City last weekend. Rockdale, meanwhile, has followed two draws with a shock 2-0 loss to Marconi.
The teams met in round three for a 1-1 draw. United coach Adam Griffiths said the draw “showed character”.
“It was a tough draw away from home. It showed a lot of character to hold out against a good team.
“We do need a bit more composure over the ball and could develop a bit of confidence.
“The good thing is that those are things we can fix,” Griffiths said.
United’s form since been patchy, if encouraging. Against-the-odds wins and hard-fought, “brave” draws buttressed with disappointing losses at home to lower placed teams.
Yet they sit in fifth position on the ladder just four points behind Rockdale-Ilenden. They’ve won 5, drawn 5, lost four.
And like most of their games this year there were positives and negatives in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with hard-charging Blacktown City.
“We were right under pump for the last ten minutes,” Manly captain Sam Gallagher said after his side had gone 2-0 up.
“We didn’t hold on to the ball as well as we could’ve. We gave them a lot of chances to put balls into our area.
“We did have a couple of counter-attacks and chances to make it 3-1. Ben Gibson went very close to scoring.
“Instead they got the ball and came at us again. Eventually weight of possession told.”
Gallagher was full of praise for 17-year-old Gibson in his run-on debut.
“He scored a goal for us and did a great job. Blacktown City is a strong outfit and he more than held his own. We looked dangerous in the final third with his movement in behind.
“Dejan Pandurevic was also strong for us on the left, along with Seiya Kambayashi and Luca Kmet who provided the through-ball for Ben’s goal.
“Our best at the back was Jesse Pirez who won a lot of battles in the air and on the ground at left centre-back,” Gallagher said.
Kieran Paull was also prominent in defence for Manly, twice clearing from his own line, while goalkeeper Sam Benton made crucial saves.
Manly coach Adam Griffiths lamented that his side hadn’t “put the game to bed”.
“[Blacktown] is a team that knows their game plan and they’re very dangerous when they put a lot of pressure on. I felt that at times we played some good football and we had some good attacking moments. We just need to be more clinical.
“Even though they still had some chances … we take our chances when we’re on top and we finish that game,” Griffiths said.
Blacktown City coach Mark Crittenden commended the visitors. “At the end of the day they’re a good side, [Griffiths] has got them doing well. We’ll take the point and move on,” Crittenden said.
Kick-off is 7pm Friday at Cromer Park.