Image: Mark Avellino
After 120 minutes of restless agony and a penalty shootout that could have gone either way, Heidelberg United have won the Dockerty Cup for the first time in the club’s history.
Neither side could be separated in a 1-1 draw after regulation and extra time, with the Bergers’ late surge thwarted in large part by young custodian Jordan Gifkins between the sticks, who was outstanding in just his second performance for Bentleigh.
For a competition with 100 – albeit fractured – years of history behind it, Bentleigh were also looking to add to history with a back-to-back win not achieved for decades.
The victory ends a drought of any kind of major silverware for the men’s side going back to the 2001 VPL title – in that time the women’s side won the WPL in 2007 and the TeamApp Cup as recently as last year.
Heidelberg may have gone into the clash as slight favourites given their status as NPL league leaders and 3-0 victors of both side’s most recent meeting at Olympic Village. There were extra milestones before the occasion with Kosta Kanakaris and Les Doumbalis notching up 100 and 150 appearances for the club.
Once the action commenced, Kenny Athiu had the clearest opportunity on goal in the first half, finding space in on goal but missing wide of the target. He also tested Gifkins later in the half and would prove to be a regular threat throughout the 120.
John Anastasiadis’ side, despite patchy league form, seem to rise to the big occasions, highlighted by their regular FFA Cup runs and determined performances to beat South Melbourne at Lakeside for the 2015 NPL grand final and Green Gully at ABD Stadium to take out last year’s Dockerty Cup.
Last year’s goalscoring winner Ryan Paczkowski departed the club to return to Mornington SC in 2017 but it was a new recruit in Dimi Hatzimouratis who had the side up after 50 minutes.
Despite 15 goals and an NPL grand final appearance last year for Oakleigh, he had lost his place leading the line in 2017, making the mid-season switch to the Greens and had already made a good impression in his early appearances.
Channelling last year’s form, he latched onto Ben Litfin’s pass and coolly guided the ball into the bottom corner past Chris Theodoridis.
A hallmark of last year’s Dockerty Cup final was Bentleigh defensively frustrating Gully, who were unable to break through despite numerous advances.
A repeat of that was on the cards when Paul O’Brien had a clear-cut opportunity minutes later but the former South Springvale custodian pulled off a quality save to deny the midfielder, who had enjoyed a strong run in the side of late.
But the presence of Athiu up front cannot be denied and he proved just why his height isn’t his only threat. His technical proficiency was on display as he curled in a rocket from the edge of the area with his non-preferred foot to leave Gifkins and the Bentleigh defence stranded. The scores were back level after 75 minutes.
The momentum had swung all night and now that Heidelberg had it, they looked to kill the contest within the 90. They came closest when, from a free kick, Sean Ellis rattled the crossbar with a thunderous strike.
But both finished the 90 with a goal each, embarking on another half-hour of time.
Play was becoming increasingly predictable as the contest opened up. The Bergers often took the aerial route, looking for Athiu via crosses and O’Brien’s long throw ins, trying to potentially expose the 21-year-old Gifkins but he remained unflappable, swatting away most of what came his way. Bentleigh, without a tall target man, looked to hit on the counter wide via the likes of Andy Brennan, Kieran Dover and the strikers, with Theodoridis having to be alert to make some saves of his own.
With time nearly expired Heidelberg thought they had their opening when Ellis waltzed through the middle as the ball fell in his path. With just the keeper to beat, Gifkins stayed big and blocked the shot.
Then, with the last shot on goal Petrie glanced the side netting with a volley, and there’d be no winner before penalties.
The shootout itself took on a whole new narrative.
Gifkins again was the hero as he denied Reuben Way’s opening spot kick. But then Jack Webster missed his side’s opener and the shootout remained deadlocked.
Up stepped Athiu, who confidently put away his penalty to get the scoring underway, with fellow striker Thurtell repeating the feat.
Heidelberg were on the back foot again when Harry Noon stepped up to take his spot kick and, like Webster, was off target.
It came down to the last kick as Dover, Ellis, Ruthven and Zahra all buried their efforts.
There were plenty of mind games already during the shootout, but with Bentleigh’s 51st minute goalscorer Hatzimouratis stepping up to take the winning kick, Theodoridis punted the ball off the spot, earning a yellow for his efforts. His inventive gamesmanship had its desired effect as the latter’s penalty came in at saveable height, with Theodoridis guessing the right way and making the save to keep his side in it.
Jack Petrie’s penalty followed and hearts were in mouths as Gifkins also guessed its direction and got a hand to it, but the ball deflected into the back of the net.
Tyson Holmes and Luke Byles also exchanged successful penalties,and it came down to Luke Pilkington to again keep his side in it.
Despite a strongly hit low shot into the bottom right, Theodoridis’ outstretched arms made the vital save, sending the Bergers contingent into raptures
It’s an important milestone for George Katsakis’ side who, in the NPL era at least, have been a dominant club without tangible silverware to show for it.
The momentous FFA Cup game against Melbourne City stands out in the memory, but finals runs have often ended in heartbreak in the NPL. Winning the Dockerty Cup gets the monkey off the back somewhat, and may just open the floodgates for the league’s current leaders for sustained future success. At the very least, this crop of players and coaches can lay claim to creating a slice of history for the club.