Heidelberg United secured their first top-flight Victorian championship since 2001 on Sunday evening, defeating Avondale FC 2-1 in the NPL Victoria Grand Final at AAMI Park.
Exorcizing the demons of 2017, when they suffered an extra time grand final defeat to Bentleigh Greens, the 2018 premiers got the job done against the Avengers; reaching a peak the club hadn’t reached since the defeating Port Melbourne on penalties in the 2001 VPL grand final.
George Georgiadis and Mile Medjedovic were on the scoresheet on that famous 2001 day for the Bergers, and on Sunday strikes from Adrian Zahra and Andrew Cartanos in the fifth and 41st minutes put them in that special place in Berger folklore as scorers in a victorious grand final – Alexandros surviving a late scare courtesy of an Avondale fightback highlighted by Jonatan Germano’s strike in the 77th minute.
The Bergers thoughts will now turn to righting the other wrong of their famous 2017 season when on Wednesday they travel to Kingston Heath to take on the Greens in the quarterfinals of the FFA Cup.
Win, and it will be hard to argue that the Bergers have not been able to manage to top that magical season of 12 months ago that saw them become the darlings of Australian football.
For Avondale, a season that has brought so much joy to the club now ends in disappointment.
After starting their week in such jubilant fashion following a famous comeback victory against Bentleigh Greens to advance to the grand final, the club was on Wednesday knocked out of the FFA Cup by Sydney FC and were only able to begin to fire in the grand final after already finding themselves down 2-0.
Pro/rel play-off: https://t.co/74L1Gd5k5j
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— Daily Football Show (@DFS_AUS) September 24, 2018
Alexandros had the kind of start to the contest that they could have only dreamed of, finding themselves ahead after only five minutes after regular season leading goal scorer Tom Cahill turned creator, laying a perfectly weighted through ball in behind the Avondale defence for Zahra to run onto.
Taking possession of the ball, the 27-year-old streamed towards goal and launched a venomous shot that, despite Avondale goalkeeper Chris Oldfield getting a hand to it, rifled into the net to give the Bergers the perfect start.
Evan Christodoulou looked to respond for Avondale four minutes later, blasting a left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area goalward only for Berger keeper Chris Theodoridis to collect comfortably.
Cahill then looked to add one of his own in the 18th minute, weaving in and out of Avondale defenders before launching a shot from outside the area that never troubled Oldfield, dribbling wide of the goal post and out for a goal kick.
Former Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar standout Joey Katebian teased a tantalising cross through the Berger penalty area in the 27th minute that was just begging to be turned into the net but, unfortunately for the Avengers, it beat everyone – sliding out for a goal kick.
Despite the Bergers having the best of the first half’s exchanges – their press forcing the Avengers to be uncharacteristically hurried and long in their attempts to move the ball out from defence – head coach George Katsakis was forced to reconfigure his plans just past the half an hour mark when veteran defender Steven Pace went down clutching his shoulder.
Unable to continue, Pace was forced down the AAMI Park tunnel with his arm wrapped in a sling fashioned from his shirt and replaced by Les Doumbalis.
The bad times did not last long for Heidelberg however when four minutes from the halftime whistle the Bergers put one hand on the NPL Victoria championship as Andrew Cartanos thundered a shot from 30-yards out past Oldfield and into the top corner to give the Bergers a two-goal cushion heading into half time.
Initial signs in the second half looked just as dire as the opening 45 had had for Avondale, Sean Ellis deserving of a penalty in the 49th minute when he was brought down by Avondale’s Anthony Strano after he nutmegged the Avondale defender just inside the penalty area on the right wing.
Signs from there did begin to improve for the Avengers, however, and the boys from the Regio Calabria club should have clawed a goal back in the 61st minute when Katebian swung a free kick towards the far post that fell perfectly for Christodoulou.
The Avondale had an open goal to shoot into, but could only fire his resultant shot over the bar
The tide, however, was turning, and ten minutes later a ball in from substitute Stefan Zinni found his follow second-half addition Jonatan Germano at the far post, the Argentine just unable to convert the golden chance to peg a goal back for the Avengers.
Germano’s addition for the second half had, nevertheless, breathed new life into a previously listless Avondale attack and the veteran made no such mistake with his next clear chance on goal, heading in from close range after being set up by Boland in the 77th minute.
At this point, Avondale was in clear control of the game – the 120 minutes played midweek obviously affecting them less than the 120 played by the Bergers – as they poured men forward in search of a winner while Katsakis’ mean was reduced to playing long balls out from the back to second-half substitute Atilla Ofli.
Despite their best efforts – a cheeky back-heel from Germano agonisingly unable to find a teammate in the six-yard-box in the last seconds of the contest – Avondale were unable to find a second; Heidelberg running out as champions of NPL Victoria in 2018.
Header Image: Football Federation Victoria / Mark Avellino Photography