Photo: Dion Fountas

Josip Hercog

The St Albans Saints have done it the hard way again in the Victorian FFA Cup Qualifying Rounds, as a Round Six win over Geelong wasn’t the easiest result to come by. Substitute Anthony Katiforis was the hero as he netted in extra-time, after the Saints fought back a two-goal deficit in regular time.

As early as the 12th minute, the Saints were put on the back foot. Kyle Markham netted from a wide-right position as he attempted what everyone thought was a cross into the box. Across the face of goal, the ball travelled and stunned Robert Santilli as the ball found the side netting and Geelong were ahead.

In standard cup procedure the match didn’t see anything too exceptional in the first half, the Saints closed their defence tighter and lifted their press on the hosts. Geelong took the one-nil lead into halftime.

Kruni Razov’s team talk at halftime must’ve ignited a fire inside the Saints, who came out in the second half looking like a completely different team.

Chances came thick and fast for the likes of Matthew Cundari, Joseph Monek, David Stojic and Adam Hodor, who were all doing their part to terrorise the Geelong defence in the Saints’ time of need.

Chance after chance went by with the final ball being the issue, as the Saints were unable to convert leaving themselves exposed on the break the longer the second half progressed.

Geelong made sure that they gave themselves the best chance at progression as a quick counter-attack with seven players pushing forward, resulted in a Michael Yoseski goal in front of the home support, doubling the hosts’ lead with just under 20 minutes remaining.

A strong showing from the Saints’ support didn’t lose belief in their team however, staying vocal and chanting in what were horrid conditions for football. The rain falling and the wind blowing, the Saints knew they had to react and quick.

It took Monek just four minutes after conceding to find the back of the net as a scramble in the box, resulted in the attacker having the ball drop to his feet. With no hesitation he threaded the ball through Dylan Nikolovski’s legs and into the back of the net.

Netting quickly after conceding the second is what gave the Saints the best opportunity at a complete comeback, as there were over 15 minutes remaining of regular time. This was enough for the visiting team, who were on fire.

In true Captain’s fashion Michael Grgic let his presence be known, as the skipper collected the ball outside the box with space. The space wasn’t needed however, as Grgic unleashed a first-time effort which he connected with sweetly.

So sweetly that the ball was heading nowhere but the back of the net as the 25-yard effort had stunned everyone, including Nikolovski who at full-stretch, came out second best.

With the score at two-all with eight minutes remaining of regular time, both teams went all-out to attempt to finish the contest within the regular 90 minutes. Playing the game of chess by attacking and staying exposed at the back, left both sets of fans gasping for air during the final moments of the match.

Extra time was an inevitable truth after the referee blew the final whistle much to the disappointment of the home fans, who believe that their team should’ve kept their two-goal cushion.

The Saints played the first period of extra time as the better of the two sides, as Deji Omoboye and Anthony Laus who were introduced during the second half were joined by Katiforis. Josip Konyit was the man who went off due to a tweaked hamstring.

The introduction of Katiforis who has netted one goal this NPL Two Victoria season in eight matches from defence, popped up again in the most special of moments. One Saints fans will remember for a very long time.

As a cross came into the box from a corner in the dying moments of the first period of extra time, it was a leap from the youngster that put him first to the ball. Using a strong head, the directed header rattled the back of the net and sent the travelling Saints fans into a frenzy.

Razov’s side held on during the second period of extra time as Geelong switched to sixth gear, attacking from every angle and forcing the Saints to retreat deep. Saints still posed a threat on the counter-attack to relieve the pressure of the defenders at certain times.

It was enough however, and the job was complete after two hours of football, as the Saints had earned a three-two win and progression into Round Seven of the Victorian Qualifying Legs. One more win remains for the Saints who await Monday’s draw.

Hume City, Altona Magic, South Melbourne, Oakleigh Cannons and the Melbourne Knights await the draw from NPL Victoria and are joined by, Bulleen Lions and Moreland Zebras from NPL Victoria Two.

The rules of the draw allow any matchup to be available, therefore the Saints could face any seven of the opponents mentioned above. The Round Seven fixtures’ time and date will also be confirmed after the completion of the draw, once decided by the two teams.

Currently the pencilled in dates for the fixtures are the week of Monday, 10 June 2019 and week of Monday, 17 June with kick-off time regardless being 19:30.

The attention now turns to Saturday’s Round 15 fixture however, as the Saints have a long trip to John McEwen Reserve to face the Goulburn Valley Suns away from home with kick-off set for 19:00.

The Suns have won four, drawn four and lost six this season as they sit in sixth position on the NPL Two East Ladder, with 16 points and a goal difference of minus six. They’ve scored 26 times and conceded 32 times in the 14 competitive matches they’ve played thus far.

At home the Suns have only managed to secure one win this season in a four-two thumping of Werribee City. Five points is all they’ve collected in seven appearances at home. Expect a Suns team who is ready for battle and their home support will come in numbers.

The Round Seven Victorian FFA Cup Draw can be streamed live on Football Victoria’s Facebook page from 13:00 on Monday, 03 June 2019.

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