With the sun shining down over Valentine Sports Park, St. George FA and Hurstville FC locked horns in what would be a memorable State League Men’s Grand Final but it was this year’s Premiers and Club Championship winners that would reign supreme in what was a fantastic finals match that had everything.

With very little separating each side in the opening periods, the game centred around the conflict between Hurstville’s physicality in midfield and St. George’s pace and skill.

Hurstville midfielders Patrick Lloyd and Paul Gagro towered over their counterparts, and made it difficult for St. George to play through the middle of the park. Regardless, diminutive playmaker James Spanoudakis looked the most dangerous player for St. George; using his pace and dribbling skill to find space. Winger Jason Lazarevski also impressed down the right flank.

As the game ticked over the half hour mark, play began to open up – primarily for St. George, who looked threatening. Holding midfielder Nicholas Napoli asserted himself more physically, controlling Hurtsville playmaker Paul Gagro.

Marauding right back Sean Thomas also stood out, dominant both defensively and moving forward.

In the thirty sixth minute, St. George target man Fouad Umlil crashed a shot in to the crossbar from close range, latching on a to a cross from Sam Messam.

Messam had used his strength well down the left wing to surge past fullback Michael Karagiannis.

However, just before half time, Hurstville shocked the Premiers thanks to a well taken goal from midfielder Paul Gagro. The towering playmaker received the ball on the edge of the goalbox, letting it run across his body before smashing home on the half-volley into the top corner.

The second half started timidly, with both sides settling down from the frenetic end to the first period. Shortly into the resumption of play, St. George substituted striker Fouad Umlil for John Tsironis in the hopes of  finding more luck in front of goal. Creative midfielder Hezio Silva Neto also entered the fray, replacing the more defensive minded.

In the sixty sixth minute, St. George’s Messam darted into the box and used his skills to burst past fullback Michael Karagiannis. Karagiannis stuck out a wayward leg, bringing down the Kiwi striker in the penalty box.

Tsironis stepped up to the spot and cooly dispatched to equalise for St. George, setting up for a thrilling finale to the State League Men’s season.

With a spring in their step, St. George pushed forward. Moments after scoring, a beautifully weighted pass from Hezio Silva Neto opened James Spanoudakis up on the edge of the box, with acres of space. Spanoudakis lined up a powerful shot, forcing a diving save from Rutherford. The resulting corner led to a goal box scramble and eventually a header from David Dascal, which forced another spectacular reflex save from Rutherford.

As the half teetered towards an end, neither side looked willing to commit too many troops forward. Despite almost nine minutes of stoppage, the game was forced into extra time. This would represent St. George’s third consecutive week failing to settle manners in regular time.

The first chance of extra time came in the 93rd minute, with St. George fullback Sean Thomas receiving the ball on the edge of the goal box and forcing a leaping save from Rutherford.

In the 111st minute, St. George winger Jason Lazarevski was finally rewarded for his impressive performance. Characteristic of his talent, Lazarevski latched on smartly to a floated long ball which was misread by Hurstville fullback Dario Borovickic and burst down the right wing. Cutting into the box, the skillful winger coolly dispatched into the far corner.

Hurstville poured players forward in search of an equaliser, launching ball after ball into the St. George goal box. St. George captain Bill Tsanidis led by example, defending doggedly alongside fellow defender Christopher Lawson.

Messam squandered a significant chance to put the game away for St. George, after being picked out by a superb lofted switch from Nick Napoli. Messam had only the goalkeeper to beat, but flung his shot high and wide.

In incredible drama, Hurstville thought they had scored an equaliser in the dying minutes of play, when Adrian Livio smashed the ball into the back of the net. The crowd erupted, but Hurstville’s hopes were dashed by an offside call from the linesman.

Typical of their performances this season, Hurstville refused to give up, and finally equalised in the 121st minute. A whipped in corner from Dario Borovickic was headed home by Herny Kamleitner at the front post, sending the game into penalty shootouts and Hurstville into hysterics.

These two sides faced each other in the first round of the Finals series, where Hurstville FC emerged victorious on penalties. Their luck wouldn’t be quite the same this time round.

Hurstville’s Rachid Hussein stepped up for the first penalty and sent a tame effort straight into the arms of goalkeeper Marko Bozic. St. George’s Tsironis followed up with a cheeky panenka to give his side the advantage. Hurstville’s Michael Janov then replicated Hussein’s effort, straight into Bozic.

Eventually, Nick Napoli made the long walk downfield to take the winner, burying the ball left of Rutherford.

In their first season, St. George FA deservedly claimed the Championship to accompany their Premiership accolades.

Match Stats

Hurstville FC 2 (P. Gagro 41′)

St. George FA 2 (J. Tsironis 66′, J. Lazarevski 111′)
(St George FA won 4-2 on penalties)

Saturday 24 September

Valentine Sports Park 2, Glenwood

Hurstville FC: 9. Marko Banic, 8. Dario Borovickic, 16. Robert Bronev (13. Adrian Livio), 2. Steven Flatt, 10 Paul Gagro, 6. Andrew Harb, 11. Henry Kamleitner, 12. Michael Karagiannis (4. Rachid Hussein), 5. Patrick Lloyd, 7. Daniel Marjanovic (14. Michael Janov), 1. Michael Rutherford.

Unused Substitutes: 15. Daniel Kocina, 99. Matthew Mulrone

Yellows:
9. Marko Banic, 11. Henry Kamleitner, 4. Rachid Hussein

Reds: N/A

St. George FA: 31. Marko Bozic, 15. David Dascal, 4. Christopher Lawson, 19. Jason Lazarevski, 11. Samuel Messam (5. Jordan Janic), 8. Nicholas Napoli, 10. James Spanoudakis, 2. Sean Thomas, 3. Bill Tsanidis, 9. Fouad Umlil (20. John Tsironis), 14. Dujon Webster (12. Hezio Silva Neto).

Unused Substitutes: 41. Terry Dal Broi, 7. Sean Richardson.

Yellows: 4. Christopher Lawson, 14. Dujon Webster, 12. Hezio Silva Neto, 2. Sean Thomas

Reds: N/A

-By Daniel Palmer (www.footballnsw.com.au)