In a season that began 18 weeks later than expected, the Illawarra Premier League began with a bang following a thrilling 3-3 draw between Cringila Lions and Albion Park White Eagles on Friday night at Crehan Park. The season opener lived up to its hype, with both sides providing some quality entertainment for the local football faithful who have been starved of competition in recent times.

It was a physical tussle between the two sides in the early stages of the match, showcasing how eager the two teams were to return to competitive football.

Cringila had to score no less than 3 equalisers throughout the whole match, with Albion Park starting on the front foot early and having the brighter start of the two sides.

Cody Wehmeyer wasted no time in scoring the first goal of the season, after thundering home a terrific volley into the Cringila net in just the 2nd minute.

However, Cringila eased their way into the game and scored their first goal through NPL 1 recruit Peter Simonoski. Simonoski was able to capitalise on an Albion Park defensive error on the edge of the box to clinically place the ball into the back of the net.

Both Cameron Morgan and Jordan Nikolovski looked to combine with each other in Albion Park’s attacking third, with the duo creating several chances for the visitors. In the 32nd minute, the attacking pair were able to combine and find the feet of Joel Beattie in the box, whose following shot sailed past the far right post of the Cringila goal.

Not long after, Morgan and Nikolovski were able to combine together to give Albion Park the lead on the stroke of half time. The attacking duo were able to combine and find the feet of Valentino Merxhushi on the far right side of the box before Merxhushi buried the ball into the back of the net.

Albion Park began to further assert their dominance in the opening stages of the second half, when they were beginning to look very dangerous in the final third. In the 48th minute, Wehmeyer was able to deliver a superb ball from the right edge of the box to find the head of Morgan on the far post, but Morgan’s header collided with the post. Beattie was able to whip in another dangerous cross just seconds later, however there was no-one who was able to connect with the cross.

Tobias Norval gave the home faithful something to be excited about in the 60th minute when he unleashed a venomous shot from outside of the box, which nestled into the top right corner. The excitement of the fixture reached another level following this goal.

Morgan would become pivotal for Albion Park again in the 73rd minute when he was able to hold the ball and feed a brilliant pass towards Merxhushi on the right side. Merxhushi was able to tap the ball past Nikola Ristevski, before Ristevski clipped Merxhushi inside his penalty area which resulted in referee Caleb Blanch pointed to the penalty spot. Morgan made no mistake from the spot, and restored Albion Park’s lead.

Moments later, Albion Park had a goal disallowed after the assistant referee flagged for offside. Albion Park’s build up before this disallowed goal was superb, and the White Eagles were disappointed not to have been rewarded for their attacking flair.

Cringila continued to defend valiantly throughout the second half, and were able to wave away a number of Albion Park attacks.

Their hard work in defence was rewarded in the 88th minute when substitute Alex Mojoski’s deflected shot found the top right corner of the Albion Park goal, sending Crehan Park absolutely wild.

Both sides would continue to fight for a winner in the dying stages, but the game finished a 3-3 draw in what was an entertaining return for local competitive football.

Cringila will make the trip up the coast to face Woonona Sharks next Saturday in their Round 2 fixture at Ocean Park. Cringila only faced Woonona at the same venue just last week in the Bert Bampton cup quarter finals, where they ran away 4-1 winners.

Coincidentally, Albion Park also face their Bert Bampton cup quarter finals opponents in Bellambi Rosellas next Saturday, however the White Eagles will be the hosts of this Round 2 fixture. They will be hoping to reverse their previous result in the cup, where the White Eagles unfortunately lost 3-1.

Date: 24th July

Venue: John Crehan Park

Referee: Caleb Blanch

Cringila Lions 3 (Simonoski 16’, Norval 60’, Mojoski 88’)

Albion Park White Eagles 3 (Wehmeyer 2’, Merxhushi 44’, Morgan 73’)

Cringila Lions: 1. RISTEVSKI Nikola, 17. PRENTOSKI Aleksander, 20. MOBBS William, 3. BAILEY Jake, 2. BROOKS Jackson, 8. SPARKS Todd, 15. WEBSTER Jake, 6. POLIDORO Dave, 9. PIRES Nuno, 19. NORVAL Tobias, 16. SIMONOSKI Peter

Substitutes: 18. HIGH Nick, 10. MOJOSKI Alex, 50. UGRINOVSKI Christian, 41. GUDEN Volica

Albion Park White Eagles: 1. COAD Blake, 11. ARAKI Naomichi, 13. NATHANIAL Chris, 4. SUZAKI Kohei, 3. SENIOR Kyle, 8. LEIGHTON Jake, 6. WEHMEYER Cody, 10. NIKOLOVSKI Jordan, 7. MORGAN Cameron, 9. MERXHUSHI Valentino, 11. BEATTIE Joel

Substitutes: 17. CARRENO Daniel, MITROVSKI Brendan, 21. FORDHAM Brendan, 12. MARTIN Jacob, 31. ARMAND Nicholas

Report by Jarrod Pollard

Photo courtesy of Kiah Hufton


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