Ten years ago, the Bentleigh Greens were promoted after spending four years in the second tier of Victorian football.
Despite spending a decade prior to their 2005 relegation in the topflight, the club from Kingston Heath Reserve returned in 2009 still looking for their first piece of major silverware.
In the decade since, however, the Greens have gone on to become one of the powerhouses of Victorian football: a rise which was capped off last night with their third NPL Victoria Championship in five years.
The Championships earned in 2015, 2017 and 2019 join the 2016 Premiership, 2016 and 2018 Dockerty Cups and two appearances in the semi-finals of the FFA Cup as a testament to the revolution that has occurred at Bentleigh.
On Sunday, despite being buffeted by both the elements and a ferocious opening spell from Avondale – which was highlighted by a driven effort from outside the box from Tasuku Sekiya in the game’s opening moments that goalkeeper Ryan Scott had to acrobatically leap upward to deflect away – the Greens initially appeared as though they had weathered the storm heading towards the end of the first half at AAMI Park.
Appearances, though, were deceiving, as just moments before the half time whistle some superb hold-up play from Avengers striker Liam Boland sprung Yusuf Ahmed into the penalty area and enabled the young attacker to fire past Scott at the near post to make it 1-0.
Nonetheless, beginning to turn the tide in the second, the Greens equalised in spectacular fashion in the game’s 61st minute when club stalwart Jack Webster was played into space by Tyson Holmes and launched an inch-perfect chip over the head of Avengers keeper Rory Brian to restore equilibrium.
With both sides becoming increasingly desperate as time wore on, exchanging chances, harsh words and crunching challenges, the Avengers had a chance to win the contest in the 83rd minute when substitute Joey Katabian let loose with a thunderous effort from the edge of the area after cutting inside onto his right boot, only to be denied at the last moment by Scott diving low and to his right to deflect the ball away with a solitary hand.
Forced into extra time, Avondale should have taken a 2-1 lead within moments of its beginning when a well-struck long-range shot from defender Scott Hilliar was deflected back into play to the waiting feet of Sekiya
Nonetheless, to the dismay of Head Coach Zoran Markovski and the Avondale bench, the subsequent effort from the 2019 NPL Victoria Media Player of the Year was, somehow, placed directly into the crossbar – despite there being nobody between the former-APIA Leichardt man and the goal.
It meant that the game, the final of three games played as part of Sunday’s Senol Triple Header, was destined for the drama of a penalty shootout.
Matt Thurtell and Boland made no mistake with their opening efforts for their sides, only for Hilliar to prove unable to match Marko Jankovic’s successful second effort. Mid-season addition Mario Illich then fired home for the Greens and Ryan Lundy was able to get his Avengers back on track.
Though Daniel Stynes was able to make it four from for the Greens and put the pressure on Katabian to keep his side alive, the former Victory youth subsequently struck true.
Stepping up for the Greens, Holmes knew if he struck true he would win it but, employing a stutter step runup, his resulting shot was poor and an easy save for Brian.
Scott, though, was then able to ascend to hero status in Melbourne’s Southeast: saving Charlie Beverley’s follow-up penalty and securing Bentleigh’s crown with a 4-3 penalty shootout win.
For the Greens, it capped off a reversal of fortune that had seen a late-season slump in form – coinciding with the departure of Head Coach John Anastasiadis and winger Valentino Yuel – send them from Premiership contention all the way to the fifth position on the table.
However, with the appointment of new Head Coach Nick Tolios after their defeat of Hume City in the opening round of the finals, the Greens knocked off Premiers Heidelberg United in the semi-finals and second-placed Avondale FC in the Grand Final to earn their label as Champions of Victoria for 2019.
Deservedly for his goalkeeping heroics, Scott was named as the Jimmy Rooney Medallist for best afield for the second time in three years.