(Photo by Mark Avellino)
South Melbourne FC are the 2016 NPL Victoria Champions after recording a thrilling 3-2 win over the Oakleigh Cannons at Lakeside Stadium on Sunday evening. Leigh Minopoulos opened the scoring and a second-half double from Jimmy Rooney Medalist Marcus Schroen gave South a record-breaking tenth State League title.
Eleven goals had been scored in the two league meetings between the sides in 2016 and the Grand Final did not disappoint in that regard, with another five goals added to that total. Minopoulos got the scoring underway after 18 minutes when he ran onto Brad Norton’s long throw-in, cut inside past Anthony Rizk and tucked the ball past John Honos and into the far corner of the net, sparking wild celebrations in the packed grandstand on his near side.
South’s lead lasted for only seven minutes before the Cannons were level through Piemonte, who had been dangerous throughout the opening period of the game. Goran Zoric beat Norton to the ball in midfield and eventually played through Dusan Bosnjak for a shot that saw the ball smash the near post but rebound for Piemonte to smash into the roof of the net.
Schroen was unfortunate to not put South ahead shortly before the halftime break, with two fantastic efforts that hit the post. His first effort was from a free kick outside the area that beat Honos but not the crossbar. Right on the halftime break, a backheel from Minopoulos teed him up to fire a second shot that again beat Honos but smashed the far post and stayed out.
It was third time lucky on 56 minutes when some excellent build-up play from the left side of midfield resulted in Schroen finally putting South ahead. Norton and Nick Epifano combined down the wing, with the latter putting in an inch-perfect cross for the incoming Schroen to head past Honos and swing the advantage back in favour of Chris Taylor’s side.
Nikola Roganovic then made two huge saves – the first from a brilliant build-up and shot from Zoric that he tipped onto the cross, the second from a Piemonte effort that he tipped wide for a corner – that were Championship-winning saves and preserved South’s slender lead.
South had one hand on the Championship on 68 minutes when Schroen got his second of the evening. Tim Mala – making his 100th appearance for the club across all competitions – threw the ball in from the sidelines for Milos Lujic to flick to Minopoulos, who teed up Schroen to take a touch before firing past Honos’ outstretched left hand and into the back of the net. Oakleigh could have pulled a goal back but Mala was on hand to clear the ball before it crossed the line.
Things turned from bad to worse for the Cannons on 88 minutes when centre-half Adrian Chiappetta was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence, however they gave themselves a consolation goal in the third minute of injury time, when Bosnjak controlled Rizk’s ball into the area before a quick turn and shot saw the ball hit the far corner of the goal.
It was too little too late as South celebrated a record-breaking tenth Victorian State League / NPL Victoria Championship, adding to the other titles won in 1962, 1964-66, 1972, 1974, 1976, 2006 and 2014. No other club in Victorian football history has won more top-flight Victorian titles than South, who also shares the most amount of National League titles won as well.
For Taylor and his squad that he has built since arriving at Lakeside Stadium in July 2013, they are giving the South supporters another one of the club’s great eras of continued success. Following an unexpected Preliminary Final finish in 2013, South has won silverware in each of Taylor’s three full seasons at the club:
2014 – NPL Victoria Champions (first past the post);
2015 – FFV Community Shield Winners, Dockerty Cup Winners, Minor Premiers;
2016 – NPL Victoria Champions (Grand Final winners).
For many of the players, it is a second NPL Championship in three seasons and one that has been thoroughly deserved, with the club having to overcome several obstacles during the course of the season. For Taylor himself, he has an outstanding winning record of 70% in league/finals matches for South, with 69 wins from 98 matches.
FINAL SCORE: SOUTH MELBOURNE 3-2 OAKLEIGH CANNONS (HT: 1-1)
1-0: Leigh Minopoulos (18′)
1-1: Dean Piemonte (25′)
2-1: Marcus Schroen (56′)
3-1: Marcus Schroen (68′)
3-2: Dusan Bosnjak (90+3′)
South Melbourne FC:
1. Nikola ROGANOVIC (GK) / 2. Tim MALA, 3. Kristian KONSTANTINIDIS, 5. Luke ADAMS, 11. Brad NORTON (C) (77. Stephen HATZIKOSTAS 90+2′) / 23. Matthew FOSCHINI, 18. Matthew MILLAR / 27. Leigh MINOPOULOS (14. Chris IRWIN 74′), 17. Marcus SCHROEN, 7. Nick EPIFANO / 9. Milos LUJIC.
Unused Subs: 4. Michael EAGAR, 21. Zaim ZENELI (GK), 22. Andy KECOJEVIC.
Oakleigh Cannons FC:
15. John HONOS (GK), 2. Adrian CHIAPPETTA (sent off 88′), 8. Dusan BOSNJAK, 10. Dean PIEMONTE, 11. Dimitri HATZIMOURATIS (7. Sean LOVEMORE 70′), 14. Konstantinos STRATOMITROS (4. Dominic D’ANGELO 81′), 16. Anthony RIZK, 18. Steve PANTELIDIS, 19. Goran ZORIC, 21. Abdalla OKUD (6. Ioannis GEORGOPOULOS 70′), 26. Perry LAMBROPOULOS.
Unused Subs: 1. Evan KRALOGLOU (GK), 17. Jacob COLLARD.
SMFC Melbourne City Toyota Man of the Match: Marcus Schroen
Venue: Lakeside Stadium
Date: Sunday 11 September 2016