For a lot of teams, 2-0 is a gap too far to bridge, especially in the Major Semi Final when there is a second chance available.
Not for Brian Brown’s Bonnyrigg boys.
In remarkable fashion, Brown’s side secured a spot in the PS4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 2015 Grand Final after a huge effort which finished with a 4-2 win against Blacktown City FC after extra-time.
Two goals from Robbie Younis, including a pearler of a free kick in extra-time, and further goals from Mun-Soo Gil and Ray Miller secured the win in the most unlikely of fashion.
Blacktown City superstars Danny Choi and Patrick Antelmi scored two brilliant goals to start the second half in the best possible fashion, but only four minutes later the game was turning into a nightmare.
Choi gave an early taste of things to come when he set off on a mazy run after just six minutes following some superb hold up play from Joey Gibbs.
The run ended prematurely when he appeared to be brought down in the box but the referee was having none of it.
A flurry of Bonnyrigg corners followed and Nickola Zonjic really should have scored from one of them.
At the other end almost straight from the goal kick, Travis Major managed a fierce shot on goals that was parried clear by James Chronopoulos.
An end-to-end half did not procure any goals, despite further efforts from Patrick Antelmi for City and Aaron Peterson for Bonnyrigg.
Throughout the half, Major suffered a number of knocks that would force him off at half-time for Mitch Mallia, while Brown made a change of his own as he introduced the lethal Younis for Rob Spruce who looked to be suffering concussion after he copped a shot fresh off Majors’ boot flush in the face.
It didn’t take long for City to open the scoring after the break, setting the tone for an insane ensuing 75 minutes of fast, attacking football which dazzled the crowd, including a certain Tony Popovic.
Substitute Mallia played a superb ball into Antelmi who held the ball up just long enough to play a superb pass to Choi who drove at goal and slammed an unstoppable finish into the roof of the net.
In the 62nd minute Choi turned provider and laid on a lovely pass to Antelmi, who narrowly beat the offside trap, to provide the class attacking midfielder with a golden opportunity.
Antelmi didn’t pass it up slotting the ball through Chronopoulos’ legs to give City a deserved two-goal lead.
With two goals in the bag and playing such good football, it looked a long road back for Bonnyrigg.
In fact, it only took four minutes for the White Eagles to restore parity.
Younis struck first with a towering header in the 64th minute before Mun-Soo Gil scored almost straight after with a fine strike from outside the box which found the back of the net via a slight deflection.
Blacktown City was left shell-shocked, but recovered to close out regulation time with a good effort from a Gibbs free kick, before Antelmi missed a golden opportunity just minutes later.
As the game headed for extra-time, that miss would prove costly.
With teams stuck at 2-2 after 90 minutes, extra-time did not prove to be a cagey affair.
City keeper Nenad Vekic was forced to sprawl at Yuta Kokada’s and then Tynan Diaz’s feet in quick succession after the restart, before Antelmi crashed a beautiful shot into the post just seconds later at the other end.
Antelmi’s shot rebounded perfectly for Gibbs who was no more than six meters from the goal but he could only direct his shot into the gloves of a thankful Chronopoulos.
Gibbs couldn’t believe he had not scored and his disbelief turned to despair when Younis delivered his usual brilliance at the other end.
Having won a free kick on the edge of the area, the lethal forward expertly lined up the shot and with incredible precision curled the ball around an eight-man City wall and beyond a helpless Vekic.
It just seemed like it was Bonnyrigg’s night.
Ray Miller confirmed as much as extra-time came to a close when he took advantage of some miscommunication from the Blacktown defence to slot home from close range to cap off an incredible game against his old club.
Miller was one of many stand-outs from both sides of the day, but few deserved a goal as much as the enterprising midfielder who stood almost head and shoulders above the rest – no mean feat on a day where so many players encapsulated the good side of the game.
Special mention must also go to Aaron Peterson, who despite picking up a yellow card which will rule him out of the Grand Final in the 110th minute continued to work diligently to further his side’s cause.
It’s just part of the Bonnyrigg spirit that Brian Brown – who typically kept a lid on his emotions post-game – can not help be enamored by.
“Trust me, there’s plenty of emotion inside and it was a classic game of finals football,” Brown said.
“One thing I’ve learnt with this group of guys is that they never give up.
“Twice this year we’ve played Blacktown previously where we’ve come from behind and come back, and I said to the bench that if we could get a goal, we would win this.”
Brown said starting Younis on the bench was more about how well his starting XI had played last week against APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC than anything else.
“I think last week they played so well it was hard to change it,” Brown said.
“I knew at some stage Rob would come on and he’s just pure quality. That’s his 102nd game for the club and he’s scored 78 goals, he’s phenomenal.”
A despondent Mark Crittenden put on a brave face after the game but said if his Blacktown City side could get to playing its best football, as it did for much of Sunday’s clash, it would be in the Grand Final.
“I’m obviously disappointed with the result but not the performance,” Crittenden said.
“We cop a soft goal and a cracker straight after to get it back to 2-2 but the boys didn’t stop.
“Patrick hits the cross bar (in extra-time) the ball falls to Gibbs who gives it straight to Jimmy (Chronopoulos) and they go up the end get a free-kick and score.
“But I thought the boys played some real enterprising footy … but credit to ‘Bomber’ and his squad. They always fight and you have to expect that from him and his teams.”
Sunday August 30, 2015
Lilys Football Centre, Seven Hills
Referee: Adrian Arndt
Assistant Referees: Lance Greenshields & Joon Park
Fourth Official: Khodr Yaghi
Blacktown City FC: Vekic, Antelmi, Cairncross, Choi, Evans (Araujo 67’), Fragogiannis, Gibbs, Lewis, Macura, Major (Mallia 45’), Speranza (Tomaras 102’)
Substitutes not used: Prendergast, Timotheou
Yellow Cards: Evans 63’, Macura 88’, Speranza 100’, Araujo 110’
Bonnyrigg White Eagles FC: Chronopoulos, Diaz (Caira 111’), Fox, Gil, Jenner (McDonald 67’), Kokado, Miller, Peterson, Spruce (Younis 45’), Zonjic, Tadrosse
Substitutes not used: Matic, Douglas
Yellow Cards: Fox 57’, McDonald 71’, Chronopoulos 107’, Peterson 110’
-By Matthew Galea, National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 Editor, at Lilys Football Centre