Monaro Panthers moved into their first Grand Final in 23 years after they ended Gungahlin United’s season with a 2-0 win in the Preliminary Final at Deakin Stadium scoring at the beginning of both halves to secure progression.
Goals from Zac McLaren and Michael John were enough for the Panthers to claim the win, although they were indebted to a sensational performance from goalkeeper Jordan Thurtell, the custodian making a handful of outstanding saves and winning his man-on-man duel with Philippe Bernabo-Madrid, denying the Gunners hit-man on four occasions.
Indeed, one of the saves, a flying one-handed tip over the crossbar after Bernabo-Madrid had spun to find space and unleashed a venomous drive at goal, was particularly memorable and precipitated the Panthers hitting their second goal of the evening shortly afterwards.
The team that had knocked over the O’Connor Knights in the Elimination Final started amazingly fast and were in front after only two minutes. Amilio Kista tested Jacob Quinn with a shot through a raft of players which the Gunners ‘keeper, potentially seeing late, did well to push away.
McLaren was quickest to react though and shaped the ball onto his right foot before lashing a finish high across Quinn and into the top corner of the net for only his second goal in Panthers colours.
Thurtell denied Bernabo-Madrid for the first time in the opening half, a feat he would achieve three more times after the break as the Gunners kept looking for a way back into the contest.
They were hit by a sucker punch four minutes into the second half though, moments after Thurtell’s acrobatics had preserved their clean sheet. A sharp break ended with Andre Carle exchanging passes with John, the former Gungahlin man arrowing a stunning low finish past Quinn and into the corner.
Gungahlin are made of stern stuff, and they kept plugging way, Leon Michl in superb form tearing holes in the Panthers defence but unable to provide the finish that may have sparked a recovery. Monaro content to play on the break could have added more themselves but had already done enough.
When Bernabo-Madrid glanced a header past the post with a quarter of an hour to play, that was about it from the team that finished second and Monaro held on with a degree of comfort to progress to meet the League Champions, Canberra Croatia, in the Grand Final next weekend.
Saturday 24 September 2022
Gungahlin United 0 Monaro Panthers 2 (McLaren 2’, John 49’)
Image: Keegan Carroll, Canberra Times