South Melbourne FC fell just short in its attempt to claim a fourth trophy in 2015, going down 1-3 to the Bentleigh Greens in the PS4 NPL Victoria Grand Final at Lakeside Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
After Troy Ruthven put Bentleigh ahead with a wonder strike, Milos Lujic scored his 30th goal across all competitions, before goals to Wayne Wallace and Chris Lucas gave Bentleigh the win in extra time.
Chris Taylor lost two of his key players in a tough second half. Goalkeeper Nikola Roganovic was substituted after a heavy collision, before Iqi Jawadi was sent off after receiving a second yellow card at the end of normal time.
The two teams could not have wished for better conditions for the Grand Final, with the strong crowd of over 3000 basked in glorious sunshine at Lakeside Stadium.
A quiet first half saw few chances for either side, however the game exploded into action after the break when Ruthven launched a rocket from long range to put Bentleigh ahead.
To make matters worse for South, Roganovic was forced from the field a short time later after receiving a heavy knock, with substitute goalkeeper Fraser MacLaren called in between the sticks. MacLaren performed admirably, making a series of excellent saves to keep South in the game.
Despite being one goal behind, there was always the possibility that South could get back into the match. Golden Boot winner Lujic gave his side a lifeline when he cleverly turned his defender and finished neatly past Alistair Bray after 72 minutes, with goal giving South some momentum. Substitute David Stirton went close to finding a winner when he fired over the bar with ten minutes remaining.
On the cusp of injury time, Jawadi was sent off after receiving his second yellow. This left South with ten men for the additional half an hour of extra time. Despite being down to ten men, South fought valiantly, with MacLaren in goal and right back Tim Mala in particular denying Bentleigh with a number of fantastic blocks. However the extra man proved to be too valuable in the end, with Wallace and then Lucas scoring goals to seal the Championship for the Greens.
The loss does not spell the end of South’s season, with the 2015 NPL Victoria Premiers representing Victoria in the Australian NPL Playoff series. South’s Elimination Final match is against Tasmanian Champions Hobart Olympia at Lakeside Stadium this Saturday 19 September, with kick-off at 4pm.
The winning team will move to the Semi Final stage and will meet either West Adelaide Hellas (South Australia) or Bayswater City (Western Australia) for a spot in the Grand Final. The team that wins the Grand Final will automatically qualify for the 2016 Westfield FFA Cup.
For South, winning the Australian NPL Playoffs will also present the opportunity to add another piece of silverware to the trophy cabinet in 2015, with the FFV Community Shield, the Dockerty Cup and the Premier’s Plate already won in what has been a fantastic season so far.
FINAL SCORE: SOUTH MELBOURNE 1-3 BENTLEIGH GREENS AET (HT: 0-0)
0-1: Troy Ruthven (52′)
1-1: Milos Lujic (72′)
1-2: Wayne Wallace (101′)
1-3: Chris Lucas (120+1′)
South Melbourne FC:
1. Nikola ROGANOVIC (GK) (22. Fraser MacLAREN 64’), 2. Tim MALA, 4. Michael EAGAR (C), 5. Luke ADAMS, 7. Nick EPIFANO, 8. Mathew THEODORE, 9. Milos LUJIC, 11. Brad NORTON, 12. Iqi JAWADI (sent off 90′), 27. Leigh MINOPOULOS (10. David STIRTON 58’), 77. Stephen HATZIKOSTAS (23. Andy KECOJEVIC 66’).
Unused substitutes: 14. Chris IRWIN, 21. Jake BARKER-DAISH.
Yellow cards: Jawadi 61’, 90’.
Red cards: Jawadi 90’.
Bentleigh Greens FC:
21. Alistair BRAY (GK), 4. Troy RUTHVEN (22. Austin WONG 106′), 5. Jack WEBSTER, 6. Liam McCORMICK (17. Ryan LOVE 120+1′), 7. Jamie DE ABREU (12. Dimi MITROV 104′), 8. Wayne WALLACE (C), 9. Chris LUCAS, 10. Tyson HOLMES, 11. Dion KIRK, 19. Daniel VISEVIC, 36. Steven TOPALOVIC.
Unused substitutes: 1. Ryan SCOTT (GK), 20. Marinos PANAYI.
Yellow cards: Webster 8’, Ruthven 39’, Wallace 97’, Wong 106’.
Red cards: Nil.
SMFC Fix Hellas Beer Man of the Match: Michael Eagar
Venue: Lakeside Stadium
Date: Sunday 13 September 2015