Bentleigh best Bergers in NPL grand final

The biggest week in Heidelberg United's history got off to a disappointing start after coach George Katsakis' minor premiers crashed to defeat in the NPL Victoria grand final against old rivals Bentleigh Greens.

Greens substitute Lampros Honos' 106th minute goal was enough to give Bentleigh a 2-1 win after the Bergers fought back to score a late equaliser and force 30 minutes of added time after scores were locked at 1-1 at full-time.

Heidelberg had hoped for a memorable start to a week in which they host an FFA Cup quarter final against former A-League champions Adelaide United, and travel to Perth to play in the national NPL Finals Series.

But it was not to be, despite 120 minutes of closely-contested football, in which both teams had chances to win the game in normal time.

Now Katasakis has three days to pick up his disappointed players and get them into the right frame of mind before facing A-League big boys Adelaide.

Bentleigh seized the initiative in the game after a moment of shoddy defending just before the hour mark gave Greens forward Trent Clulow the chance to fire home to put his side in the lead.

It looked as though his effort might be enough to take the spoils, after Heidelberg striker Kenny Athiu spurned a great opportunity 20 minutes from time, powering a close-range header over the bar.

However Athiu made amends in the 79th minute, scoring from the penalty spot to level proceedings.

The Bergers had beaten Bentleigh three times earlier in the season - twice in the NPL Victoria and once in the final of the Dockerty Cup, the state equivalent of the FFA Cup - but there had been little between them on each occasion.

John Anastasiadis' side must have felt they were on the way to gaining compensation for those earlier losses with a Grand Final victory before Athiu gave Heidelberg a lifeline from the spot.

Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou was in the audience for a game played at the Lakeside Stadium, where he had enjoyed the early successes in his career, as a player and coach for South Melbourne in the old NSL.

If the A-League ever does expand, or creates a second division, it is these sort of clubs who will be vying for a place in it, and no one could complain about the quality of the entertainment on offer in this showcase game as both teams went at it hammer and tongs.

Heidelberg took a pragmatic approach in the lead-up, emphasising that a Grand Final victory took priority over an FFA Cup tie, even though they still have the chance to make history when they entertain Adelaide on Wednesday night.

Now all the attention must go on to that game, lest what could have been an historic week ends up being one of frustration.

*In the Grand Final curtain raiser an old familiar name from the NSL, Melbourne Knights, avoided the ignominy of relegation from the NPL top division by beating Dandenong City in the promotion/relegation play off.

A large crowd turned up at Lakeside to barrack for these two clubs, which have traditionally been backed by the city's Croatian community, but it was a forward with the decidedly Anglo name of Kym Harris who was the star of the show, netting a hat trick in the Knights 3-2 win.

It was closer on the scoreboard than it looked, however, as the Knights were leading 3-0 with barely five minutes to play before getting the jitters and conceding two goals in the dying moments of the match.

This story Bentleigh best Bergers in NPL grand final first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.