After defeating Hume City in the FFA Cup Round of 32, the Greens take on the Wanderers in their third blockbuster home clash against A-League opposition in four seasons.
The Greens won the nation’s hearts in 2014 when they made the semifinals and fought valiantly in the 3-0 loss to Perth Glory. In 2016 the club reached the quarter finals and their 2-0 defeat to Melbourne Victory showed that the gap between the professionals and the part-timers was closing.
Although they were defeated by A-League clubs on both occasions, Bentleigh’s attractive playing style and their eccentric fan base endeared them to football fans across Australia.
Ahead of their massive Round of 16 FFA Cup tie against Western Sydney on Tuesday night, Bentleigh coach John Anastasiadis is under no illusion about the challenge that awaits his team.
“We’re playing one the best three teams in the A-League along with Sydney FC and Victory,” he says, speaking to Neos Kosmos.
“No doubt they have top class players. But we’ll go out there and do what we do best and put on a good performance and hopefully fill the ground with our supporters to give us a bit of a boost and be our 12th man.
“We’re going to need a bit of luck here and there but we know they’re a very good team that is very well-coached. We’ll go there and enjoy ourselves and we’re very much looking forward to it.”
Anastasiadis says the lessons they learnt in the losses to Glory and Victory will be to their benefit when they take on the Wanderers in front of the Kingston Heath faithful.
“We know what do now,” says the experienced coach.
“We need to be better organised. There’s no doubt that something that has been lacking a bit from our game this year is our final ball into the box and the quality of our finishing. We know from our previous experience that you have to have the quality. If you don’t have the quality in your final ball then these A-League teams – they may not be the dominant team on the day – but you know that two or three quality counterattacks into the box and they can do a lot of damage.
“That’s where the NPL teams falter a little bit – that last bit of quality. Whereas A-League teams can really hurt teams if given the opportunity. That’s something we’ve taken from those past experiences with the A-League teams.”
Greens’ star player Matthew Thurtell has scored 15 goals in the Victorian NPL this season and believes the club can break their A-League club hoodoo.
“JA (John Anastasiadis) did bring it up after the Hume City game,” he revealed.
“He reminded us that although we have a very good track record in the FFA Cup the one thing we haven’t done is beat an A-League team so it’s about time we did that.
“The FFA Cup provides the platform where you can knock off the big boys. It’s something that the club really looks forward to and loves being in every year. We always strive to do our best in this competition and now we’ve got another A-League side we will go out there on Tuesday and give it our all to knock them off.”
While Anastasidis will be looking to Thurtell for that crucial goal he also sounded out a few other Greens players who could make an impact.
“Matty has been through a lot with his injuries and it’s good to see him back – he’s been our top goal scorer this year and all his cylinders are firing right now,” he says.
“There’s a few other boys in our team that can showcase themselves on the big stage. With Lambros Honos we have a quality player who can do unbelievable stuff at times. He’s been a professional in Greece so he knows what it’s about. Sometimes we expect him to do things other players don’t do. He’s got that quality, that killer pass. He can get a shot out of nowhere and a ball in the box.
“We also hope that someone like Andy Brennan who had a stint with Newcastle Jets a couple of years ago can also produce the goods. Tyson Holmes has also been one of our best players this year in the middle of the park. His work rate and his hunger to be the best has been excellent and then you’ve got the boys in the back and the goal keeper.”
While Bentleigh Greens is one the top clubs in Victoria and a major FFA Cup drawcard it was a much different scenario in the mid-1990s. Before the club set up base at their Kingston Heath Soccer Complex, the site was just a few empty paddocks, save for some horses and was surrounded by barbed wire fence, weeds and wild thistles.
Reflecting on the club’s modest beginnings and the journey that has brought its recent success, co-founder and club chairman Ray Georgiou is still pinching himself.
“You wonder if it’s really happening or just a dream,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“Since 2011 John Anastasiadis has been grooming a certain style, a possession-style football, pretty football. Some of our opponents reckon we are too soft and pretty and get stuck into us but that hasn’t stopped us from being fairly dominant.
“You don’t have to smash someone off the park to make an impression. Technique is John’s philosophy and it’s rubbing off on the first-grade players, the U20s and the other age groups too.”
After reaching FFA Cup semifinals in 2014 the club provided the narrative for the FFA Cup underdog and Anastasiadis feels that since that inaugural season, other NPL sides have been seeking to emulate their success.
“We were the envy of not just the Victoria NPL, but clubs across the country because of what we produced in the FFA Cup,” he says.
“Everyone stood up and took notice of what exposure clubs can get from this fantastic tournament after our success in 2014. No doubt Heidelberg and South Melbourne have strengthened their playing squads, as have other teams around the country and we’re quite happy to be trailblazers for that. We also want to be getting better and better and one day make the finals.”
With the Wanderers standing in their way to a spot in the quarterfinals, club chairman Georgiou has been looking abroad for inspiration.
“We are much smaller entities than those A-League level clubs and beating them is a dream that all of us at the NPL level have,” he says.
“Especially those rusted on Bentleigh Green supporters. I like to think of them like those Huddersfield supporters who were in the wilderness for 100 years but who are still there with their team whether they are top or bottom of the ladder.
“For our club, this is a major moment – we are in the bright lights as the Foxtel match of the day. It will be a powder keg atmosphere but I won’t predict the score I’ll just leave it to fate to decide.”