Monaro Panthers shocked Canberra Croatia in the National Premier League under-23 Grand Final with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the League Champions at Deakin Stadium.
Despite finishing a distant sixteen-points behind Croatia in the League table, the Panthers upset the apple-cart, winning their way from the Elimination Final, through the Preliminary Final, and on to ultimate Grand Final glory.
The Panthers threw the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons early on by striking inside the opening four minutes. It was a goal created by the powerful presence of Archie McGregor, the Monaro striker bouncing off a couple of challenges and squaring for Samson Carr to guide a first-time effort past Jason Matesa.
Croatia hit back through some speedy attacks, and almost equalised when Timothy Santos rifled a shot into the ground that was helped on its way over the crossbar by the palm of Gerion Mehmetaj in the Panthers goal.
Monaro ended the half strongly and were able to extend the lead three minutes before the half-time interval. A pinpoint delivery from a corner was met by a looping header from midfielder Ryan Straub that floated over Matesa in the Croatian goal to give the Panthers a dream cushion at the break.
Croatia started the second-half brightly and almost narrowed the deficit when Nicholas Pratezina saw his effort blocked by Mehmetaj, and the rebound shaved the outside of the post.
A short delay ensued as Panthers forward Mitchell Jervis-Hamilton, carried off in the first-half, was taken to hospital by ambulance but it didn’t forestall any Panthers momentum as Matesa needed to be alert to deny McGregor a third.
However, Monaro weren’t to be denied for long and Straub burst forward to play in Giuseppe Tine with a perfectly weighted pass allowing the forward to slide home the deciding goal.
Saturday 23 September
Canberra Croatia 0 Monaro Panthers 3 (S. Carr 4’, Straub 43’, Tine 80’)
Canberra Croatia: 23. Jason MATESA, 5. Luke SAKAMOTO, 6. Fabian OLIVARES (22. Marko RATHOUSKI 77’), 8. Alex-Junior MALAUULU, 9. Atiya WARAGA, 10. Nick PRATEZINA, 12. Nigel KALLEE (34. Marcus CRISPE 54’), 14. Parris BANGWENI, 15. Jack LEVERETT, 17. James GODDING, 21. Timothy SANTOS (3. Steven DOSEN 77’)
Substitutes not used: 25. Luka KURTA, 82. Ewan GOODCHILD
Monaro Panthers: 1. Gerion MEHMETAJ, 3. Samson CARR, 4. James LA VELLA, 10. Elijah DENG (6. Nicholas CACHIA 87’), 9. Giuseppe TINE (7. Khaine TODD 87’), 11. Patrick MITCHELL (15. Nicholas GRANDY 69’), 12. Mitchell JERVIS-HAMILTON (20. Oscar CAMPBELL 20’), 13. Angus PITKIN, 14. Archie MCGREGOR, 16. Ryan STRAUB, 19. Jack ELLWOOD (17. Ronan CARR 69’)
Match Officials: Joshua EISER (Referee), Jordan KING (Assistant Referee 1), Hyunwoo JEON (Assistant Referee 2), Jackson TIPPETT (Fourth Official)
Discipline: YELLOW CARDS: 14. Parris BANGWENI, 17. Nigel KALLEE, AC: Francois BANGWENI (Canberra Croatia), 4. James LA VELLA, 9. Giuseppe TINE, 11. Patrick MITCHELL, 16. Ryan STRAUB (Monaro Panthers)
RED CARDS: None
Player of the Match: Ryan STRUAB (Monaro Panthers)