Played a frantic pace for large spells, a second-half brace to Nathan Elasi sealed the deal for the Stallions – the former White Eagles player returning to haunt his former side at his former stomping ground.
Elasi’s fine display landed the former White Eagles and Melbourne Victory player the Robbie Slater Man of the Match Award, Elasi becoming the fourth player to receive the accolade since its inception in 2009.
For Bonnyrigg, despite the home ground advantage and the most boisterous supporters at the venue, the White Eagles were left frustrated after 90’ minutes of football where Brian Brown’s men did create goal scoring chances.
It was an unchanged Stallions lineup following the Preliminary Final defeat of Blacktown City FC last weekend, meanwhile the White Eagles were forced to make two changes to its starting lineup since its last outing against the Stallions.
Goalkeeper Andrew Bazi replaced the injured Nikodin Matic, meanwhile the suspended Tynan Diaz gave the energetic Ken Chun a start.
In only the opening minute of the match, the Stallions’ players, staff and supporters were in angst as they awaited Ali Haydar – one of the grand final’s best performers – to get back to his feet. The defender appeared to have injured his knee in an early challenge, though he was back on his feet following a short pause.
The Stallions carved out the first real opening of the afternoon on 4’ minutes. Jamie McMaster collected a Nahuel Arrarte set-piece on the edge of the penalty-area before turning his marker and driving a half-volleyed effort wide of Bazi’s goal.
Bonnyrigg’s response arrived 2’ minutes later via the feet of Aleksander Canak. The speedy attacking midfielder cleverly skipped past his marker to create a yard of space on the right before his delivery into the path of Ken Chun was cleared away to safety.
2012 top goal scorer Robbie Younis had the crowd on its feet in the 9’ minute as he lined up a free-kick from the edge of the penalty-area. The Bonnyrigg number 9 delivered a powerful attempt on goal, though his effort only just failed to dip enough to trouble James Chronopoulos.
On 21’ minutes, Harris Gaitatzis tried his luck from distance with a swerving effort that failed to trouble Chronopoulous. Gaitatzis’ movement was exceptional, as was his vision, though the final delivery failed to hit the target.
Bonnyrigg went close to opening the scoring on 25’ minutes as Younis cleverly turned his marker to create the space he needed to shoot on goal; the striker’s effort appeared to have Chronopoulos beaten though only just finished wide of goal.
Bonnyrigg’s positive passage of play continued, and in the 31’ minute all present at the venue thought the side had found the breakthrough.
A set-piece delivery from the edge of the penalty-area ricocheted off the Stallions’ wall only as far as Younis who blasted a first-time volleyed attempt on goal. With the ball seemingly destined to finish inside Chronopoulos’ left-hand post, the shot-stopper made a world class diving save, diverting the ball behind for a corner to keep the score level.
Bonnyrigg seemingly had a hold on midfield with Aleksander Canak a constant menace for the Stallions defence. Despite the possessional dominance however, it was Marconi that created a big opportunity to find a goal shortly after.
The Stallions won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty-area in the 38’ minute, and just as it seemed the side could find an opener, the White Eagles defenders stood tall. The Stallions’ practiced routine was well read by the Bonnyrigg wall, and the chance went begging without a shot even executed on goal.
McMaster did go close for the Stallions on 45’ minutes when he picked up a loose ball on the edge of the penalty-area. The attacking midfielder, who was clearly off balance, struck his attempt on goal from a central position, though Bazi was well positioned to make the save and ensure both sides would go in at the break at 0-0.
Following the half-time interval, Mitchell Long had the Bonnyrigg supporters on their feet inside the first 60’’ seconds.
Long used his pace, after playing a neat one-two with Gaitatzis, to run by his marker to create an opening. The Bonnyrigg number 23 could sniff an opening and he blasted a powerful effort inches wide of Chronopoulos’ left-hand post.
On 55’ minutes, Chronopoulos was graced by the referee when he made contact with Younis. The shot-stopper went one-on-one with the striker and what appeared to be a routine claim for Chronopoulos saw Younis anticipate the goalkeeper with his head. Younis’ attempt to run around the goalkeeper was brought to an end after the two made contact, though the referee quickly blew for a foul on the shot-stopper instead.
Marconi responded with Nathan Elasi at the other end. The speedy winger tried his luck from the left with a placed effort, aimed for the bottom right-hand corner, however his shot finished wide of the post.
Elasi’s pace continued to trouble the White Eagles defenders with a neat counterattack on 59’ minutes. The attacking midfielder had the defence stretched, though his square ball into the path of Jamie McMaster gave the retreating Bonnyrigg players the time to regroup and thwart the attempt.
Defender Umut Tokdogan followed up for Marconi with a shot from distance moments later. The defender picked up a loose ball on the halfway line and made his way into some space before drilling an effort directly at Bazi.
Bonnyrigg attempted to limit the Stallions positive passage of play with a swift counterattack of its own. Long played a neat lay-off into the path of Canak however the attacking midfielder blasted well over the crossbar from a promising position.
The missed chance proved costly as Marconi found the go-ahead goal down the other end. Elasi found the breakthrough for Marconi following a fine switch of play from the right. The Stallions number 11 was lethal with his diagonal effort across the face of goal, driven hard and low and leaving Bazi routed to the spot.
Bonnyrigg responded immediately with the home supporters behind them. Chris Tadrosse’s delivery from the right found Long at the back post – the playmaker saw his header cleared off the line by Haydar. A goalmouth scramble followed as the Stallions defenders cleared the lines with some desperate defending.
On 72’ minutes, Canak capitalised on some poor defending as he chased a through ball over the Stallions defence. With Chronopoulos beckoning, and under immense pressure from Christopher Nunes, Canak attempted to scoop the ball over the shot-stopper, only just sending the ball wide of goal.
The Stallions’ mammoth task of holding onto the one-goal lead took a turn for the worse on 74’ minutes as Andrew Mailer was given his second yellow card of the afternoon for a deliberate handball. The pressure on the Stallions was telling as McMaster was next in the referee’s book – 1’ minute later – for a very poorly timed challenge as the White Eagles pressed desperately for an equaliser.
The Stallions were forced to defend deep in the closing stages with Bonnyrigg throwing everything in search of an equaliser, and 5’ minutes from time, Chronopoulos used all his experience to come off his line and safely punch away a Tadrosse corner. The left-footer’s in-swinging delivery carried a real punch, though the shot-stopper was unyielding despite the pressure of three Bonnyrigg strikers.
Gaitatzis was next to pepper Chronopoulos’ goal with an attempt. The attacking midfielder was rushed into a shot on the edge of the penalty-area, slicing his effort wide of the mark in the process.
On 90’ minutes, substitute Damien Travis nearly put the result beyond doubt for the Stallions. The right sided midfielder covered the width of the pitch to get onto the opposite wing before cutting the ball back onto his right foot and blasting over the crossbar.
With 5’ minutes of injury-time allocated by the fourth official, Marconi did find the second goal to put the result out of Bonnyrigg’s reach.
Elasi sealed the deal for the Stallions in the 4’ minute of injury-time, as the Bonnyrigg players pressed for an equaliser. Marconi caught the White Eagles’ defence out as Elasi was sent one-on-one with Bazi before coolly slotting home.
Scenes of jubilation followed as the Marconi players and supporters went into a frenzy as the club put aside the disappointment of losing the 2009 grand-final against Sutherland Sharks.
Victorious coach Luke Casserly was extremely pleased at the trophy presentation:
“I am very happy with what we have achieved today, the boys really put in a great effort,” expressed Casserly.
“Bonnyrigg have been the standout side this season, they have been brilliant and they have dominated us, even though I thought we were a little unlucky a few weeks ago when we went down to them.
“I think the past few weeks the major difference has been that we have had most of our players back from injury and most players available for selection. This has given us the confidence and belief that was needed to approach this match with the correct mentality.”
Casserly continued in comparing this achievement to that of Marconi’s last grand-final triumph back in the National Soccer League (NSL) days:
“I was involved in the side that won the title in the NSL in 1992-1993 and that was tremendous, and to now do it as a coach is just as special.
“I know how passionate everyone is at this football club and for the club to have gone so long without a League win, and to finally get it today is just tremendous.”
Casserly continued: “Winning this title today is also special for me for another reason. A really good friend of mine, a Marconi Legend, passed away and he was pretty much my football mentor – Ian Gray.
“He is no longer here today, though walking into the ground before the match I could feel that he was present and I think he played a big part in the win today.”
The Stallions coach continued with some shock news after two seasons at the club as coach:
“This season is my last season coaching at the club, work and family commitments are really big as there is a lot of time that goes into the season. I haven’t been at home a lot and I haven’t been able to see much of my son play football this season either.
“Hopefully I do get the chance again in the future, I do really enjoy the challenge, though I guess this was a pretty good way to finish with a win,” concluded Casserly.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles coach Brian Brown was bitterly disappointed with the loss, though extremely pleased with the season his side has had in 2012.
“It has been a long time since I have won a grand-final, though I think today our opponent played a very good match.
“Cliff (Cliff Pointer) and I are extremely happy with the efforts of the boys this season and of course with winning the Premiership, especially following the disappointing 2011 we had last season.”
Despite the grand-final setback, Brown is adamant his side will be back, bigger and better next season:
“I think the loss today will drive us forward.
“We have already started planning for next season. We are planning when we will get the boys in for pre-season training to prepare for 2013, and we will set some goals to achieve for next season.”
The double has eluded the side in 2012, though Brown will be setting the double as the target for 2013:
“The double is our target and I think we have proved this season that it is something we can achieve.
“At the start of pre-season for next season, the double will be our goal,” Brown ended.