NORTHCOTE City have taken out the Victorian Premier League double after a hard-fought 3-2 extra time Grand Final win against a 10-man Bentleigh Greens at AAMI Park on Saturday.
Northcote claimed the championship for the first time, capping off a stellar season which included clinching regular season honours.
Ecstatic coach Goran Lozanovski said the team had defied the sceptics.
“We worked hard all year long to try and finish in the top three or even first, and we did that, so we achieved one target,” Lozanovski said.
“The next one was the grand final and we did that. So the third one was to win it and hold up.
“I dare say from Round 1 no one gave us a chance at Northcote City and full credit to the players.
“They did everything that was asked of them, even today when we weren’t at our best we still dug deep and they hung in there and that’s what finals football is all about. If you hang in, you give yourself a chance.”
VPL top-scorer Milos Lujic was awarded the Jimmy Rooney medal for best on ground, scoring a goal in extra-time to level the ledger at 2-2 before Marinos Gasparis fired home the winner directly from a corner-kick.
Evan Kounavelis opened the scoring mid-way through the second half for Northcote before A-League target Ryan de Vries found an equaliser for Bentleigh just a few minutes later.
The scores were locked at 1-1 at the end of the 90 minutes with extra-time and possibly penalties on the cards to decide who would take home the 2013 VPL championship.
It looked like it was headed Bentleigh’s way when Luke Sherbon gave the Greens an early extra-time lead, but Lujic headed Northcote level right on the stroke of half-time just minutes after Luke Pilkington was awarded a straight red card.
The momentum swayed Northcote’s way and three minutes in to the second half Lujic stood up again and the VPL top-scorer got the slightest touch from a dangerous corner kick to net the winning goal.
Bentleigh should have opened the scoring after just 90 seconds when De Vries fed through Sherbon, who cut it back for Wayne Wallace but unfortunately for them blasted it way over the bar.
Two minutes later and Bentleigh did have the ball in the back of the net but it was ruled out for offside. Sherbon’s shot was saved by Northcote goalkeeper Chris Theodoridis-Petropoulos, with Liam McCormick adjudged to be in an offside position before heading it in to an empty net.
Northcote had their first chance on goal shortly afterwards but Evan Kounavelis’s cross to the back post was headed over by Lujic.
Hayden D’Agostino set the tone for the match with a crunching foul on David Strirton and was duly awarded the first of six yellow cards in the game.
Bentleigh were awarded a penalty after 19 minutes when De Vries was brought down in the box by Kristian Konstantanidis. Sherbon stood up looking to repeat his heroics from last year’s grand final for Dandenong Thunder, but ended up blasting the spot-kick high and wide.
Sherbon had another just a minute later to redeem his penalty miss but was forced wide by Petropoulos before a brilliant cut back by Jack Webster from a corner was missed by everyone and cleared by the Northcote defence.
Northcote City had the chance to work something from a free-kick but the wall blocked their effort with De Vries breaking away for Bentleigh and once again a cut-back across goal was missed by any Greens players.
Sherbon and Wayne Wallace joined D’Agostino in the book towards the end of the first-half before Liam McCormick curled in a wonderful free-kick that came off the post.
Bentleigh would have felt hard done by to not be up at the break, and they almost found themselves 1-0 down five minutes in to the second half. Konstantanidis won a corner before forcing Bentleigh goalkeeper Stuart Webster in to a fantastic save.
The game went in to a small lull after the header but Kounavelis did his best to set the game alight with a mazing run before taking a shot that deflected off Jack Webster and ended up in the back of the net.
But some great work from Sherbon down the right wing set up De Vries to tap home the equaliser just five minutes later and it was game on.
Dean Piemonte, one of Northcote’s best in 2013, made an appearance off the bench after the 74th minute and had a chance to score with one of his trademark free-kick just seconds later but he uncharacteristically curled it high and wide.
Northcote City thought they had won the game with five minutes to go when Lujic got on the end of a fantastic cross from Kounavelis but his bullet header was ruled out for offside, with replays later showing it was the incorrect call.
The sides were unable to be separated after the 90 minutes and extra-time was next. And Sherbon ensured it was going to be an entertaining extra-time period when he headed the ball past Petropoulos from a Dane Milovanovic free-kick.
But Luke Pilkington, who came on after 99 minutes, was red carded three minutes later for a needless kick-out at a Northcote player. And it cost Bentleigh when Northcote equalised right after thanks to Lujic.
Bonel Obradovic sent in a low cross from the left and Lujic did what he knows best and that was convert the cross in to a goal.
But they weren’t done there when a harmless corner won by Lujic was sent in by Marino Gasparis and somehow found it’s way in to the back of the net. Milos Lujic celebrated as if he had scored but it was Gasparis who was awarded the goal.
Bentleigh had one last chance to equalize and send the game to penalties, in the 122nd minute no less, but a heavy touch by Wallace after being played in by Aron Wilford saw Petropoulos close down the angle well and pull off one of the most important saves of his career.
Bentleigh Greens manager John Anastasiadis saw the positives despite the heart-breaking loss.
“I don’t think anything went wrong,” Anastasiadis said.
“We played as well as we could today and I really can’t ask anything else from the boys.
“It was a silly thing that Pilko (Pilkington) did but he’s going to have to live with that.
“Northcote got the result. Congratulations to them. They’ve been a consistent team throughout the year.
“We’ve raised the bar in the way football should be played and hopefully we can continue that next season."