ECU Joondalup moved up to sixth place on the PS4 National Premier Leagues WA table after a thrilling 3-2 win against Stirling Lions at a wet and windy ECU Football Stadium on Saturday.
The home side looked in control after a brace from striker Daryl Nicol but the Lions hit back with goals from David Micevski and David Sesay.
It looked like the points would be shared but a free kick from Andy Higgins deep into stoppage time won it for Dale McCulloch’s side.
McCulloch said his side showed fantastic character to win the game and keep their unbeaten run going.
“We’re normally on the end of those sort of results,” he said. “But the character the lads showed today bodes well for the rest of the season.
“They (Stirling) are a very good side but today we showed how far we’ve come this season and what were all about.
“We created a number of chances and to get the late winner is great and I’m really buzzing for the boys.”
Two-goal hero Nicol said it was disappointing to give the lead away.
“It was an absolute thriller in difficult conditions but the boys dug in deep and I really thought we deserved the points,” he said.
“We were cruising with a two-goal lead and they got a dubious penalty and that gave them a lift. But the character of the lads to push to the last minute and score the winner was fantastic and it puts us back in the mix.”
Lions coach Rob Milevski said they had the chances to win the game but failed to convert them.
“We’re disappointed to lose the game,” he said. “But the conditions were tough out there and we found ourselves two goals down.”
“We fought back to level and from then on we had enough chances to go on and win it, but it wasn’t to be.
“We got caught on the break for the second half and gave away a couple of silly free kicks for the other two, and that has cost us today.”
The rain hadn’t abated for most of the day but the pitch had held up well and it was a fast start to the game. The home started the better and Lions custodian John Perkins was in the thick of the action early.
First on eight minutes Gordon Smith’s long-range shot was well saved by Perkins before the keeper tipped over another Smith half volley moments later.
But their pressure was rewarded with the lead on 17 minutes. A quick free kick from Steven McGarry caught the Lions napping and Nicol superbly curled the ball over Perkins from the left hand side of the penalty area.
David Micevski continued to be a threat for the Lions and his volley flashed over the top on the half hour but it was the home side who ended the half the better.
Perkins was again alert to save Gordon Smith’s shot on the run after the Scottish striker had been sent clear by Tommy Amphlett’s through ball but at the break the home side lead.
The Lions should have levelled seven minutes into the second half. The lively Teeboy Kamara raced past three ECU defenders before squaring the ball to Jamie Gibson but with the goal at his mercy the striker failed to hit the target.
That miss came back to haunt the visitors three minutes later as the home side doubled their lead.
The Lions were convinced they had a penalty after hand ball in the ECU box but their protests were waved away by referee Stuart Muldoon and ECU raced clear.
Amphlett sending Nicol in down the right, he held off his marker and finished clinically past Perkins.
ECU, who hadn’t conceded a goal in the past five games, looked in control but two minutes later the Lions were awarded a penalty after Kamara was brought down in the box by Ryan Lowry.
David Micevski stepped up but Lewis Italiano guessed the right way to save but Micevski was the quickest to react to score the rebound.
It was the lifeline the Lions were searching for and four minutes later they levelled.
A mix up at the back and ECU failed to clear their lines. The ball fell to Sesay whose shot from the edge of the penalty area flew low past Italiano to level.
It was now the Lions who were dictating terms and Italiano got down well to save David Micevski’s curling shot before the ECU custodian saved low to deny Gibson moments later.
But the home side regained the ascendancy and Gordon Smith was sent in on goal by Steven McGarry on 83 minutes but Perkins stood tall to deny him.
The home side continued to press and in stoppage time and they won a free kick wide on the right.
Higgins’ curling set-piece looked like it took a flick off Gordon Smith and into the net, but the goal was awarded to Higgins.
ECU Joondalup 3 (Nicol 17min, 55, Higgins 90+2)
Stirling Lions 2 (David Micevski 58min, Sesay 62)
Saturday July 9, 2016
Venue: ECU Football Stadium
Referee: Stuart Muldoon
Assistants: Julian Serra and Liviu Katona
ECU Joondalup: GK Lewis ITALIANO, 2 Ryan LOWRY, 3 Rikki SMITH, 4 Steven MCGARRY, 5 Andy HIGGINS, 6 Shane PICKERING (19 Paddy DOYLE 78’), 9 Daryl NICOL, 10 Gordon SMITH, 11 Cian HIRRELL 13 Tommy AMPHLETT, 18 Henry DURR
Subs not used: RGK Todd HOYLE, 7 Stefan VRANESEVIC, 8 Ollie ANNIS, 16 Keylun POLLARD,
Yellow Cards: Amphlett 32’, McGarry 62’
Stirling Lions: GK John PERKINS, 2 Mathiang MATHIANG, 4 Balmo QUA QUA, 5 Graham DORAN, 6 Brodie MARTIN, 8 David SESAY, 9 Jamie GIBSON (7 Miki VUJACIC 85’), 10 Daniel MICEVSKI (3 Lucas DE LIMA 64’), 11 David MICEVSKI, 15 Shane CASSIDY, 17 Teeboy KAMARA
Subs not used: RGK Connor CAMPBELL, 13 William KESSEL
Yellow Cards: Cassidy 56’