Gambier Centrals shows dominance to halt ‘spirited’ Apollo

Gambier Centrals reaffirmed its dominance and held off a spirited Apollo in the Steeline Bendigo Bank Limestone Coast Football Association Senior Men’s grand final rematch on Sunday.

Typical winter-like weather greeted the players at MGA Park with the dark clouds and consistent showers creating a gloomy scene above the pitch and a tight battle on it.

Following the Lions’ easy run to the title in last year’s decider, the blue and white were desperate to get their hands on the Dyson-VanDerlay Shield and regain the upper hand in the rivalry.

However, Centrals sent a statement in the first half by showing its class and dominating possession.

Despite many big names led by coach Brodey Koop on the sidelines, the Lions were on the prowl from kick off.

Star player Christian Fleetwood was everywhere in the middle and put Apollo’s defensive unit on the back foot instantly.

Fleetwood was not on his own though with Mickey Richardson, Steve Crowther and Jensen Childs playing strong support acts to create many scoring chances.

Eventually the pressure became too much for the visitors as the Lions roared to a formidable lead.

Richardson thrived on the extra responsibility and found the back of the net, while Sam Shoemark and Cameron Saint also hit the scoreboard.

Suddenly Centrals looked an unstoppable force, flying into half time with a huge 3-0 lead. But the storm clouds gathered and the heavens opened in the second half, which turned the battle for possession into a scrappy affair.

Despite allowing the Lions to cruise to a big lead, Apollo used the slippery conditions to their advantage and enjoyed some more of the ball.

Htoo Wah, Robert Nagy and Gay Nay Say Ler were the main drivers behind the blue and white’s fightback which forced the Centrals defenders to flood back.

Crowther worked overtime to support goalkeeper Steve Hughes, but they were not able to maintain a clean sheet.

Shar Nay Than put the visitors on the board early in the second half which gave them belief to keep pushing.

With the rain coming down and time running out, Apollo could sense the game was drifting away, but a free kick in the box was the perfect chance to bring the game to life.

Nagy calmly put it away and suddenly the tension lifted with only one goal splitting the teams.

Although the visitors had the momentum, the addition of Richard Kinyabuguna to Centrals’ line up added some spark to the hosts’ formation.

Kinyabuguna was not afraid to go in hard and he was rewarded with his efforts with a polished goal to sure up the 4-2 win.

The young gun was unlucky not to double his tally after Apollo keeper Jesse Widdison pulled off a stunning reflex save.

Koop said he was impressed with how the depth of his team shone through after some unexpected scares occurred before and during the contest.

The rematch of last year’s grand final went really well for us,” he said.

“Already without key players Craig Wright and Mitchell Cutting this week we also lost Jake Blackwell with sickness on game day.

“It gave Mickey Richardson, Steve Crowther and Jensen Childs bigger roles to play which they all did really well.

“Apollo were lucky to only be 3-1 down at half time, but to their credit came back into the contest having more possession and creating headaches for the Lions’ defence.

“But a clever substitution bringing on the fresh legs of junior Richard Kinyabuguna sealed the win with a well finished goal.”

There was a lot on the line at Malseed Park where Blue Lake and Naracoorte faced off for some valuable premiership points.

Little separated the teams as both units presented themselves with opportunities to score during a tight and physical opening passage of play.

Despite kicking into a strong breeze, it was the visitors who looked the most threatening from short and long range.

Augustine Halumwane found an opening outside the 18yard box and did not need a second invitation, launching the ball into the back of the net to send a buoyant Naracoorte into the lead.

But the celebrations were cut short as the Rangers only needed 10 minutes to find the equaliser through Gay Lay Htoo Ku.

Spectators were treated to another special finish from Ku, who perfected a lovely chip over the keeper’s head.

The remainder of the first half was a tight affair with Blue Lake pressing hard with the wind, but continued to be nullified by Michael Sprules Bartlett, Ciaran Shouksmith and Alfred Nokia.

Now with the breeze behind their backs, Naracoorte found an extra gear and the assault was led by Hossain Panahi.

He broke the stalemate and sent the visitors back into the lead midway through the second half before Halumwane scored from long range once again.

Halumwane’s stunning double was the final act of Naracoorte’s full 90-minute effort which extracted an important win in the context of the fight for finals.

International had few issues disposing of Millicent at Casadio Park.

The hosts hit the lead inside two minutes, but to the shock of the crowd the visitors responded instantly through the impressive team effort of Abbas Ansari and Isaac Veron.

Inter hit back by dominating possession and their hard work paid off as it started raining goals just before half time.

Matt Ferguson was on fire scoring a hat-trick either side of half time, while the finishing touches were applied by Matt Bueti in devastating fashion.

After being rested in the first half, Bueti carved up the Millicent defence and scored three goals inside 30 minutes to complete a 9-2 victory.

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