Lake Albert rode a Fred Gardner hat-trick to a 3-0 victory over an undermanned South Wagga outfit at the showgrounds on Sunday.
South Wagga’s Prince Thompson, Osman Ameen and Abdul Sillah were all serving red card-induced suspensions and Warriors’ lack of regular starters showed as Lake Albert repeatedly sliced through their defence like a hot knife through butter.
The contest got off to a bizarre start when Gardner tapped the ball towards goal in the third minute, seemingly as an afterthought following a broken play, only for the keeper to fumble it into the back of the net.
The competition’s leading scorer doubled Sharks’ lead just four minutes later, landing a thunderous strike from the left side of the box.
Gardner then capped off his fourth hat-trick of the season with the taste of half-time oranges still fresh in his mouth, leisurely tucking the ball into the bottom corner in the 48th minute to seal the game.
But the prolific striker was quick to deflect attention away from his collection of goals post game.
“It’s not really the hat-trick that worries me,” Gardner said.
“It’s just good that we played as a team, that’s the most important thing.
“It doesn’t really worry me how many goals I get, as long as our team performs.”
It was a calm and collected display from Lake Albert, who dominated possession and created the majority of the game’s chances.
South Wagga had their opportunities, but they occured with frustrating infrequency.
Warriors striker Nazar Yousif’s worked hard to create a golden opportunity before half-time, streaking down the centre of the pitch for a one-on-one showdown with the keeper.
But with multiple defenders breathing down his neck, Yousif put the ball wide before flailing his limbs in sheer frustration.
The energetic striker also missed a penalty in the 60th minute, testing the structural integrity of the goal with his line drive crashing into the left post and spilling out of bounds.
Meanwhile, Cootamundra thrashed Young 5-0 at Gus Smith Oval.
Cootamundra’s Caylum Barber slotted the first goal of the day, after being whisked to hospital with a back injury in the Strikers’ last match before the June long weekend.
The day went from bad to worse for Young when an own goal doubled the deficit.
Cootamundra’s Scott Endacott, Brent Farnsworth and Tyler Allen then joined the party, scoring a goal each.
Elsewhere, ladder-leading Leeton was restricted to a 2-2 draw with eighth-placed Wagga United.