Four teams remain in the NPL 1 finals race; they’re the teams that finished in the top four at the end of the home-away season. Following South Melbourne’s and Oakleigh Cannons’ wins in last weekend’s elimination finals, two Hellenic derbies will determine the grand finalists for this season.
It all kicks off on Saturday evening at Olympic Village, when traditional rivals Heidelberg United and South Melbourne go toe to toe, followed on Sunday afternoon by the south-east derby between Bentleigh Greens and Oakleigh Cannons at Kingston Heath.
South Melbourne coach Chris Taylor is expected to retain his central defensive pairing of Kris Konstantinidis and Luke Adams in preference to skipper Michael Eager, after the two performed well in the 3-0 elimination final win over Hume City last Sunday.
Before that game Taylor had stressed the importance of a tight defence. After the match, which was South’s first clean sheet in 10 matches, the coach said of the Konstantidis and Adams pairing: “The boys came together, performed very well, they give us good balance, a bit of mobility and good at attacking balls in the air as well.”
They’ll no doubt need both those qualities when they face the Bergers’ twin attacking threat of Kenny Athiu and Archie Thompson on Saturday, in what will be the first appearance of the two together in the same side.
Apart from left back Brad Norton, who was subbed off late in the match against Hume with a slight groin strain, South should be at full strength. Despite this, Taylor believes his team will go into the game as underdogs.
“Going to Heidelberg Village, they’ve got to go in as red hot favourites having finished second in the league,” he said, speaking to mFootball after the win against Hume. “They’re well-coached and probably the best performing side in the last two months. We know we’re going to be up against it. Probably a lot of people will have written us off, but after today we can go in with a little bit of confidence and hopefully give them a good game.”
On Sunday, Oakleigh Cannons and Bentleigh Greens resume their thrilling battles this season, with the score standing at a win apiece with both games producing 3-2 results.
The Cannons are brimful of confidence following their 5-2 win over Green Gully in the elimination final at home last Friday, after having lost both home and away games to Gully this season.
“We’ve had our knockers all year,” Cannons coach Peter Tsolakis said in the lead up to Sunday’s semi-final against Bentleigh. “Nobody really expected us to be where we are at this stage of the season. We’re 90 minutes away from playing in a grand final, so we’re going to go out there and give it everything we’ve got.
“We know what Bentleigh are like. We know how they play. They try to play out from the back. A possession-based game. Sometimes it might be easier for us to structure up against that, so we really know what we’re going to get with Bentleigh. We’ve got to be 150 per cent on our game otherwise we won’t get anything out of it. But we’re the only side that’s beaten them there (at Kingston Heath) for the last few years I think. We match up quite well against them. They’ve got to worry about our attacking line as well.
“Our front four were explosive on the night against Gully. We’re going to try and expose them playing a similar style.”
The NPL2 season enters its final round this Saturday, with Kingston City on the threshold of winning the title and automatic promotion to NPL 1. Kingston needs just one point away to Brunswick City to clinch the championship.
Kingston City coach Nick Tolios commented during the week: “First time this year we actually control our destiny. What we get out of the season is in our hands to be honest. We know we’ve got a big task ahead of us ( at Brunswick) but I think the boys are up for it.”
Last weekend’s win at home to Goulburn Valley Suns meant that Kingston, which had trailed Dandenong Thunder for most of the season, leapfrogged Thunder into top spot after Thunder lost 4-1 at Eastern Lions.
“We’re not going to go there to try and pick up a point. We’re going to try and win the game as we normally do,” coach Tolios says of Saturday’s visit to Brunswick City.
“I know Karkaletsis (Brunswick coach) quite well. He’s a very proud man and he wants to win every game like I do. They’ve had a fantastic last 13 games and still have an opportunity to finish third. It’s a massive achievement. Knowing what George (Karkaletsis) is like, they’re out there to spoil our party, and if it was me on the other side of the fence, I’d be doing the same thing. If you want to become a champion, you’ve got to do it the right way.”