After 26 weeks of the regular season and two weeks of finals football, just two sides remain standing.
After a season of twists and turns it will be the two upstart sides of the 2010s that are set to do battle on Sunday; Avondale FC will face Bentleigh Greens in the 2019 NPL Victoria Senol Grand Final to determine who will be crowned kings of NPL Victoria.
Favoured coming into their game against the Oakleigh Cannons in the first of the weekend’s two semi-finals, Avondale ended up qualifying for the 2019 decider in relatively comfortable fashion as they recorded a 2-0 win at the Reggio Calabria Club on Saturday afternoon.
Kiwi defender Scott Hilliar headed in at the near post to give The Avengers the perfect start to the contest in the ninth minute of play, before Stefan Valentini turned in a magnificent Brandon Lundy cross to make it 2-0 in the 66th minute to put his side in a strong position to soak up a late-game Oakleigh push and advance to the decider.
With their home at Olympic Village undergoing renovations, Heidelberg United was forced to stage their semi-final against the Greens at the home of Port Melbourne: JL Murphy Reserve. However, the Sharks home field failed to prove a happy hunting ground for Alexandros.
Velibor Mitrović fired the visiting Greens ahead in the 24th minute with a lovely dinked finish past Bergers’ goalkeeper Brendan White after taking advantage of a Harry Noon misstep, only for Sean Ellis to answer back for the NPL Victoria premiers after some fine proceeding work from Tom Cahill just over ten minutes later.
Tyson Holmes, however, was able to drive a dagger through the heart of Heidelberg’s hopes of back-to-back NPL Victoria Championships in the 61st minute when he, following a collision with Berger captain Luke Byles, was able to get to a deflected Mario Ilich free-kick and poke home to make it 2-1.
In the end, it was a deficit that the Premiers would be unable to haul themselves back from. New Greens Head Coach Nick Tolios – who had only been named to the post in the days leading into the semi-final after departing Kingston City – making it one win from one game and booking a date with Avondale in the Grand Final next week.
Should the Greens orchestrate a victory in that contest, it will bring the third NPL Victoria Championship in five years to Melbourne’s southeast and mark a remarkable reversal in fortunes for the club.
Losing the stalwart figure of Head Coach John Anastasiadis and the dynamic Valentino Yuel to A-League side Western United midseason, the Greens experienced a late-season swoon that saw them fall from Premiership contenders to fifth place by the end of the campaign; leading many observers to write off their chances before their unlikely run to the Grand Final.
It was a poor run of form that stood in stark contrast to the exploits of Avondale, who engaged in a neck and neck race with Heidelberg for the Premiership before earning a week off for the finals.
Looking to quiet off-field noise, Avondale will now seek to bring a first-ever NPL Victoria Championship to the club at AAMI Park and cap off a meteoric rise that began with them in the sixth tier of Victorian football a decade ago.
Avondale and the Greens split the regular-season series between the two sides: Valentini, Joey Katabian and Hilliar propelled The Avengers to a regulation 3-0 win in their most recent meeting at Kingston Heath Reserve in round 26.
Nonetheless, it was the Greens that took the chocolates in the first meeting between the two back in round 13; goals from Marco Jankovic and Matt Thurtell enough to see off a goal from Avondale’s Yitay Towns.
Image: Mark Avellino