Bentleigh Greens created its own piece of history last Sunday becoming the first team of the modern NPL era to win two grand finals. Sunday’s 2-1 grand final win against Heidelberg United caps off a remarkable three seasons laden with trophy success for the south-eastern suburban club, including a Premier’s Plate and Dockerty Cup sandwiched in between the two championships in 2015 and 2017.
In Sunday’s match, they had to overcome the emerging force of Heidelberg United which like Bentleigh last season, had already won the Premier’s plate and Dockerty Cup double this season.
The match itself was worthy of a grand final with both teams locked in an epic contest right down to the final whistle at the end of extra time. A crowd of 3765, watched an evenly balanced match with neither side able to wrest control of the game nor dominate possession or chances.
The Greens settled quickest with Clulow slipping a pass through the Bergers back four to Andy Brennan in the 10th minute only for keeper Chris Theodoridis to save.
Greens winger Brennan had another couple of half chances before the half hour mark. That was followed by the Bergers’ first real chance of the game when a header from winger Kostas Kanakaris forced an excellent reflex save from Greens keeper Ryan Scott. The Bergers finished the half well with midfielder Harry Noon starting to exert some influence by setting up chances for Athiu and josh Wilkins.
There were intriguing duels and match-ups all over the park and the Greens did well to contain the threat of the Bergers more attacking players. Greens’ full back Luke Pilkington had a great battle with Heidelberg dangerman Sean Ellis out wide, whilst experienced Greens recruit Nick Ward effectively counteracted the influence of Harry Noon in the middle of the park. And whilst the Bergers’ star forward Ken Athiu ran himself into the ground and always presented as a target man for the Bergers, Greens defenders Ross Archibald and Jack Webster kept a tight reign on him close to goals.
In the end, a couple of key moments decided the tight game in the Greens’ favour. The first came in the 58th minute when a heavy first touched from Bergers skipper Luke Byles from an infield pass, allowed Greens winger Trent Clulow to pinch possession and run into the box to strike the opening goal of the game. Tyson Holmes then missed a great chance to double the lead from a Brennan cutback as the Greens looked to drive home the advantage. However the Bergers recovered sufficiently to find an equalizer and send the match into extra time when sub Michael Trigger cut into the box and drew a foul from defender Pilkington. Athiu made no mistake from the resultant spotkick in the 78th minute.
The next defining moment of the match was a moment of individual brilliance. It came at the start of the second period of extra time, when Tyson Holmes played Greens substitute Ross Honos into space allowing him to run at the Bergers back four. The fresh legs of Honos carried him past a couple of Bergers’ challenges before he stepped inside a third and unleashed a left foot drive which flew past Theodoridis into the net for the spectacular matchwinner.
There’s often a fine line between victory and defeat and in the final ten minutes, the Greens defence twice denied the Bergers scoring from close range chances. In the first instance, they had keeper Ryan Scott to thank for producing a magnificent save to deny an Adrian Zahra shot from a Trigger cross. (Scott was later awarded the man of the match award for his efforts throughout the game). And then in the dying moments, Andrew Cartanos had his goal bound shot cleared off the line by a Greens defender.
After the match, Bentleigh Greens coach John Anastasiadis commented, “It was a tough game. There was no doubt that Heidelberg were very good and our goalkeeper was probably man of the match. And that says it all. He’s pulled off 3-4 very good saves. We took our chances today. Probably three-four chances and scored two goals. It was also good to see our changes came on and made a difference. To win games you’ve got to have a good bench. We made sure we did that today. We were lucky enough that Ross (Honos) came on and scored the winner.
“Heidelberg United coach George Katsakis commented after the match, “I think when your goal keeper gets man of the match it draws a bit of a picture, doesn’t it? I think we had enough chances to win the game. But that’s the way football works. You’ve got to take them otherwise you get punished.”
Despite the disappointment of losing the grand final, he said, “Let’s put things in perspective. It’s been a massive season for the boys at the club. Probably the lead up in today’s game- without making any excuses- probably wasn’t the right lead up. We lost a board member this morning ( Peter Loukakis passed away suddenly). It really put a dampener on everything. It was probably the hardest pre-game talk I’ve ever done. That really just set the tempo.”
The Bergers will have to wait at least another season before it can call itself the champions of Victoria.
But what of the Greens, which has set a benchmark with its success in the NPL era. What further aspirations does the club have. Coach Anastasiadis says, “We’re holding out for that ( a second tier national competition) at the moment. That’s probably the next best thing for us at the moment. We’ve done everything possible in this league, in the NPL. And we’re hoping the powers that be make some decisions in the coming months, to see where we’re at as clubs. Because you can only give these guys enough motive. And if you’ve accomplished that motive, what is there after that?”
“They’ve done the FFA Cup, they’ve won the league, the minor premiership. I think the next best thing is to get a bit more professional and hopefully have a second division where these boys can look forward to come to training again.”