Bentleigh Greens has continued its remarkably consistent form in the FFA Cup competition, making it to the round of 16 for the fourth time in five seasons, and creating its own history along the way, by knocking out an A-League opponent for the first time in four attempts.
The Greens’ 1-0 win over Wellington Phoenix at home in their Rd of 32 FFA Cup tie on Tuesday evening was even more remarkable, in that the Victorian team played most of the match with just ten men, after James Kelly received a red card in the first half.
Before a crowd of just under 1300 spectators, the home team survived an early scare against the Phoenix, when Wellington attacker Roy Krishna’s shot was cleared off the goal line. It took a quarter hour for a patient Greens to fashion their first attacking chance, and it came from a Velibor Mitrovic corner kick.
Tall Bentleigh defender Marco Jankovic met Velibor’s cross to the near post and headed the home team into the lead. The goal noticeably lifted the confidence of the Bentleigh team, and midfielders Mitrovic and Tyson Holmes looked comfortable in possession against their more fancied A-League opponents.
The momentum shifted however in the visitors’ favour after 33 minutes, when Bentleigh midfielder James Kelly received a second yellow card for a clumsy challenge on Phoenix’s Polish import Michael Kopczynski, which left the Wellington midfielder nursing a sore shin.
Reduced to 10 men, the home team’s focus shifted to maintaining a compact defensive shape, and getting numbers behind the ball in a bid to protect its precious lead, which it was able to do for the remainder of the half, despite increasing Phoenix pressure.
In the second half, the Greens proved their defensive mettle against the A-League team, which pressed forward in numbers and controlled possession for longer periods in their opponents’ half. The Greens’ back three of skipper Jack Webster, Blake Thompson and Jankovic, ably screened by the determined Ethan Wesley, kept their opponents at arms’ length, limiting the Phoenix’s shots on goal to strikes from outside the box, which Greens’ keeper Ryan Scott comfortably dealt with.
As the half progressed, the home fans sensed an upset in the making and urged the Greens on, with both coaches making three subs each in the latter part of the second half. The ref’s whistle, after five minutes of injury time, sparked joyous celebration from the Greens bench and the fans, as coaches and presidents ran onto the park to embrace the triumphant Greens players.
“It’s a magical night for the club,” Bentleigh coach John Anastasiadis commented, after the match. “We’ve been working on this for the past seven years. We’ve had the three goes at it, we were unsuccessful, and today is a great night. “This result gives a lot of confidence to the boys, and hopefully we can carry that through on Saturday against Avondale in a match which will probably determine top two positions,” he added.
“I think collectively, we’re a better team this year (than last year), and going from that FFA Cup game last year when we lost 4-0 (against Western Sydney Wanderers), we learnt a lot from that game. Because you can’t switch off against an A-League team. We’ve learnt from every game we’ve played against A-League opposition, and today it came to fruition ,which is fantastic. We strut our stuff here in the NPL. It’s tough, it’s not easy. We come up against a lot of elements, but we tend to overcome them. We want our teams to play good football and that is what I’ve strived for all my career as a coach. We’ve done that and we’ve been successful at that. That’s all we can do. Now what happens above us, or they (A-League clubs) don’t want to give us a call for a reason, that’s up to them. We hope one day it happens. And I congratulate Mark Rudan, for getting the (coaching) job at Wellington and I sincerely hope he does extremely well this year. I congratulate Wellington for hiring Mark, and I hope they really do well this year, and prove that NPL is something that other A-League clubs should look at.”
The Greens now join Heidelberg United as the only two Greek-related Victorian clubs to progress into the Round of 16, following the elimination of Northcote City and Darwin-based Hellenic Athletic. Athletic lost a thriller 3-4 against visiting A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers in front of 3000 fans, pushing the Wanderers all the way, only to lose to an injury time winner to Wanderers’ Roly Bonevacia, after the scores were tied at 3-3 and extra time beckoned.
Northcote City lost 1-3 to visiting Tasmanian NPL side Devonport Strikers, after City played the second half with ten men following a red card.