Super Sunday is almost here! Here’s all you need to know ahead of 3 massive games, staged back-to-back at AAMI Park.
Promotion/Relegation Playoff: Dandenong Thunder vs Bulleen Lions
Say what you like about Dandenong Thunder: it’s never boring.
The Thunder defence shipped 70 goals this season – the worst in the league by some distance – and slumped to five losses on the trot in the middle of the season.
As usual, they turned to their attacking talents and knack for the big occasion to get themselves out of trouble. They have relied heavily on 2018 Golden Boot winner Brandon Barnes once again, who delivered 19 goals in 26 games, including a hat trick on the final day to escape automatic relegation by a single point.
Flying fullback Blake Carpenter’s delivery from wide and Kieran Dover’s deft touches between the lines will likely be key on Sunday. Keep an eye out for young midfielder Anthony Dezic, who has added composure and technique whenever called upon after his mid-season switch from the Melbourne Knights.
Bulleen are aiming for a return to the top flight at their first attempt, but have taken the more difficult route to redemption, finishing 2nd behind Eastern Lions in the NPL2 Eastern conference.
Captain Eli Luttmer displayed nerves of steel to bury a stoppage time penalty against Moreland Zebras on Tuesday night, sending the playoff into extra time. From there, the stage was set for top scorer Ben Everson to bury #26 for the season, and more importantly seal a spot at AAMI Park on Sunday.
Johnny Kuol arrived from Langwarrin mid-season, and has the pace to trouble any defence, particularly on the break. Keep an eye out, too, for Phil Petreski’s crafty left foot, both from open play and set pieces.
NPLW Victoria Grand Final: Calder United vs Bulleen Lions
Calder United will start as heavy favourites, after finishing the regular season 8 points clear on top of the table, with a staggering goal difference of +110.
Bulleen, however, appear to be Calder’s bogey team, having defeated them twice from their three meetings in the regular season, including a 2-1 away win 3 weeks ago.
With the club in action twice on the big day, Bulleen will no doubt bring a sizeable and vociferous crowd with them – another factor in the Lions’ favour as they look to spring another upset.
Calder will be led by American import and reigning Gold Medallist Catherine Zimmerman, who has netted 33 goals in 26 appearances this season in another outstanding campaign. Melbourne Victory defender Angela Beard, who plays in a more advanced role for Calder, is not far behind on 31, more than doubling her tally from last season.
Bulleen, meanwhile, will look to talisman striker Rachael Quigley for the goals, having tallied 23 in 2019.
NPL Victoria Grand Final: Avondale vs Bentleigh Greens
At their best, Avondale play scintillating, high-octane, possession-based football, unmatched at this level. However, a combination of injuries, missed chances, and crucial defensive lapses in big games has seen the Avengers pipped to the Premiership post by perennial rivals Heidelberg.
Avondale have since welcomed back the experienced utility Phil Riccobene, silky midfielder Yitay Towns, and all-action full back Brandon Lundy from the treatment table. Having made several changes to his usual XI in the Semi Final win against Oakleigh last week, it is anyone’s guess how Zoran Markovski will set his team up on Sunday. Club captain and goalkeeper Chris Oldfield is a major doubt for the decider with a strained quad.
Golden boot winner Liam Boland is always one to watch, with his impressive link-up play with his back to goal and explosive finishing. Japanese import Tasuku Sekiya has also caught the eye this season as perhaps the most technically gifted and creative midfielder in the Victorian top flight, and is many an observer’s favourite for the Gold Medal, awarded tonight (Thursday).
It is a rare scenario for a coach to manage in a Grand Final after overseeing just one game, but that’s exactly the position Bentleigh’s new boss Nick Tolios finds himself in.
After years of stability under John Anastasiadis, the club has endured a tumultuous campaign, losing both their mentor and in-form winger Valentino Yuel to new A-League franchise Western United. Caretaker John Gabrielson was relieved of his duties after a disappointing run of results that led to Bentleigh finishing outside the top 4 for the first time in the NPL era.
Highly-rated Kingston boss Tolios had long been rumoured to take the reigns in 2020, but has been parachuted in early, immediately masterminding a 2-1 win over the reigning champions Heidelberg. Not a bad start to life at Kingston Heath!
Avondale will no doubt be delighted to avoid their arch nemesis, but Bentleigh present an entirely different, less predictable challenge. Will Tolios encourage the Greens to go out and play, and attempt to beat Avondale at their own game? Or will he set up to press and counter with breakneck speed, just like his Kingston sides of late?
Whatever happens, towering central defensive duo Marco Jankovic and Jack Webster – along with acrobatic goalkeeper Ryan Scott – will be crucial in stopping the free-scoring Avondale attack.