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Wests Illawarra and Thirroul Thunder shared the spoils in a competitive cup tie that could have gone either way at Memorial Park on Sunday. Chris Twigg scored one in each half for Wests, while two goals either side of the half time break from Jesse Bragg and Adam Ward saw the Thunder come from behind and take the lead, if only briefly.
The result leaves Thirroul in pole position to advance to the next stages of the Fraternity Cup, but leaves the door open for Wests if they can overcome Balgownie in the last pool fixture next Thursday.
Wests dominated the opening exchanges, forcing two early corners, but Thirroul’s organised defence packed the area and allowed no way through.
It didn’t take long for Wests to realise that their most effective weapon could be the long ball for their pacey wingers and forwards to run onto. In the 5th minute, Daniel Boyd sent a ball through to Twigg, who reached the byline before cutting it back for Jordan Hughes, who forced a good save out of Chris Wearing in the Thirroul goal.
That was just a dress rehearsal for Wests’ next move, though, and in the 8th minute, they got it just right. Again it was Boyd who launched a long ball from his own half for Twigg who out-paced his marker and fired home for the opener.
The goal just served to increase Wests’ confidence on the ball, and the flow of play continued in one direction for much of the first half, apart from a brief interlude when Jonathan de Lyall appeared to set up Ward in a good position, but the Thirroul forward could get nothing behind his shot.
David Cuda was enjoying himself in the middle of the park for Wests, having a crack himself from the centre circle – a shot on target, but not troubling Wearing this time – and then sending another long ball through to Twigg, forcing Wearing to race to the edge of his area to prevent Wests from another effort.
It was totally against the run of play when Thirroul equalised just before the break. But it was poor marking at the back that let the Thunder in. Nathan Mucci was allowed far too much space, giving him time to pick out Bragg in the box, and the Thirroul forward made no mistake with virtually their first chance of the game in the 33rd minute.
The second half had barely begun when the Thunder found themselves in front.
This time the Wests back line froze as they looked for an offside flag that never appeared. Bragg was provider for Thirroul’s second, his back header landing at the feet of Ward, who fired a left foot shot past a helpless Kyle Booth.
And the Thunder should have stormed further ahead moments later as substitute Scott Woods got in behind the defender at the far post but his right foot shot was tame and an easy take for Booth.
But it was Wests who got themselves back into the game in the 48th minute. Nathan Puljic sent a cross over the heads of everyone in a packed six yard box, but Twigg was on hand again at the far post to poke home for the equaliser.
That goal triggered a surge of activity from the Thunder, who kept Booth busy in the Wests goal for the rest of the match. First he tipped over a beautifully-curled free kick from Daniel Arthur, then he twice denied James Hutton from close range, before the impressive Woods set up Daniel Bond on the edge of the area, but again Booth made a good stop to keep his side in it.
It was Woods again who won a free kick late on, from which Corey Haines-Grose forced yet another save from Booth as the Wests keeper pushed another goalbound shot out for a corner.
De Lyall had a chance to nick victory at the end for Wests, but his left foot shot was turned away by Wearing to keep the scores level. Over the course of the 70 minutes, this was probably a fair result, though Wests have their gloveman to thank for keeping his side in it as the Thunder rolled in the second half.
Wests Illawarra FC – 2 (Twigg 8’, 48’)
Thirroul FC – 2 (Bragg 33’, Ward 37’)
Assists: Wests: Boyd, Puljic; Thunder: Mucci, Bragg
Sunday 26 February 2017
Memorial Park, Corrimal
Referee: Aden Crawley
Assistant Referees: Steve Bozic, Emajen Crawley
Wests Illawarra: Kyle Booth, Luke Melkerts, Jordan Hughes, Ben Sallabank, David Cuda, Godfrey Franco, Diego Andrade, Nick Kougious, Jake Bailey, Daniel Boyd, Chris Twigg (subs: Nathan Puljic, Nick Tortorella, Joe Youssif, Pal Burleigh, Jordan Timpano)
Thirroul FC: Chis Wearing, Daniel Bond, Corey Haines-Grose, Tyler Snelgrove, Shayne Mulholland, Daniel Arthur, Adam Ward, James Townson, Jesse Bragg, Nathan Mucci, Jonathan de Lyall (subs: Joshua Bond, Todd Davidson, Scott Woods, Nelson Reid, James Hutton)
Report by Simon Duffin
Photo by Pedro Garcia (Library File Photo - 2016)