International has made a massive statement of intent in the blockbuster clash of the fourth round of the 2022 Steeline Bendigo Bank Limestone Coast Football Association Premiership Cup Senior Men’s season.
All the attention on a sunny Sunday afternoon was poured on MGA Park where reigning premiers Gambier Centrals took on challenger Inter in a top of the table contest.
Both teams had played skillful football winning their first three rounds convincingly and the tag of early flag favourites was going to be settled across 90 minutes of tense action.
The fast-paced aggressive nature of the game was established from the first whistle as the rivals went at each other’s throats with their supporters at full voice from the sidelines.
Despite missing the expertise of both coaches Brodey Koop and Tom Naviskas due to illness, the Lions still managed to enjoy most of the possession in the first half.
Lewis March, Jake Blackwell and Christian Fleetwood led the way for the hosts trying to press forward, but they were countered by the likes of Christian Cella and Caleb Casey.
But an Inter team missing four regular starters in Nick Morony, Ricky McRobert, Alex Sims and Sar Hay Moo, started to struggle to keep the lid on things.
As the visitors were still grappling with the horrific injury to Patrick Wilondja, the Lions made their move.
After failing to convert many frustrating missed opportunities, Centrals broke through via Sam Shoemark.
The home side continued to ride high on momentum with Blackwell, March, Cam and Justyn Saint controlling the midfield and creating more chances to score.
Centrals thought it had doubled the lead moments before half time, but the shot was disallowed, while some gutsy work by young Inter goalkeeper Ka Nay Di Baw kept the scoreboard at 1-0.
With the hosts taking all of the momentum into half time, International needed to regroup and process how it was going to stem the bleeding and turn the tide.
The black and blue returned from the break as a different unit and turned the game on its head.
Suddenly the visitors were dominating possession with their lifted intensity as the Lions dealt with the loss of key player Justyn Saint to injury.
Inter’s sudden surge put Centrals on the back foot and the visitors did not need to wait long to find the equaliser.
A pinpoint corner by Sam Bueti zeroed in on Casey, who was smart enough to header the ball past Centrals’ keeper Steve Hughes and put International on the board.
With the scoreboard locked, winning the final third of the game became paramount and tempers rose along with the heightened intensity.
The battle for the ball became a physical affair and both teams received some one-on-one time with the referee as the crowd got vocal.
Casey was the hardest hit and was forced to go off after receiving two yellow cards within 10 minutes.
But a Lion was also sent off following another heated moment, while the injury of Steve Crowther also further complicated things for the hosts.
With both teams down to 10 men, coaches had to restructure their formations as the game opened up.
After 71 minutes of chasing the boys in orange, International hit the lead for the first time after another big intervention from Bueti.
This time he did it all on his own with a classy finish to send Inter into the ascendancy and their fans into delirium.
The run to the final whistle remained tense with both sides continuing to threaten the goals, but Baw remained strong with the gloves to confirm International’s hard-fought 2-1 win.
Inter coach Vlada Gajic said his team had to dig deep after half time to get the result.
“It took another hard earned effort to come away with the points against a well organised Centrals,” he said.
“With four starters unavailable, it was always going to be a tough ask and our depth was truly tested.
“A massive performance from goalkeeper Ka Nay Di Baw kept Centrals from scoring and it was a step up in intensity that proved the difference in the second half.
“We finished strong to remain undefeated which bodes well for the rest of the season.”
Another hard fought battle took place at Webb Street where Apollo and Blue Lake meet to decide who is the better in the blue and white.
The two young sides threw everything at each other in an entertaining display of football in postcard-perfect conditions.
Despite each team having their moments in front of goal, Apollo’s polish proved the difference.
This was largely thanks to the boot of Shar Nay Than as he kicked the two goals that confirmed an important win.
Millicent had another challenging afternoon at McLaughlin Park where Naracoorte was the latest to fly to a confidence-boosting win.
Nasir opened the floodgates with an early strike and soon it was raining goals.
Muhammad Mehidi had the most fun scoring a hat-trick while Muammad Haidar and Ciaran Shouksmith were also prolific.
Ben Tran provided some joy for Millicent in the 11-1 defeat.