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Image Credit: Anita Milas

Thunder win VPL Grand Final


Dandenong Thunder 2-1 Oakleigh Cannons

Peter Anastassi

Dandenong Thunder are the Victorian Premier League Champions for 2012 with a 2-1 victory over Oakleigh Cannons at AAMI Park on Sunday evening.

Thunder are the first side in thirty one years to secure a Victorian football treble, having won the State Knockout Cup, VPL League Title and their first VPL Grand Final this year.

In a physical encounter that saw both sides receive red cards, the match was goalless until half time before sparking to life in the second.

Dandenong were the first team to go down to ten men with Craig Elvin sent off in the 59th minute, but were first on the scoresheet, with Luke Sherbon curling in a stunning free kick in the 69th minute.

Oakleigh struck back four minutes later with captain Ricky Diaco scoring from the penalty spot after Dane Milovanovic was brought down in the box.

Luke Walker followed Elvin down the tunnel after being dismissed in the 79th minute after receiving a second yellow card.

It was the class finish from star Canadian import Nate Foster after a superb assist from Luke Sherbon in the 81st minute that made the difference.

Both teams had surprises in their line-ups with Craig Elvin recovering from a heavy fall in last week’s win over Green Gully to start for Dandenong, while Oakleigh were without key player Hayden Doyle who injured his knee two weeks ago, though this was not revealed by the club until today.

The opening half produced few chances for either side, with Foster coming close for Dandenong in the opening minute while Rasmus Festersen and Ricky Diaco narrowly missing for Oakleigh.

Both teams lifted their intensity in the second half in search of an opener, with chances at both ends and desperate defending around the box.

A rush of blood for Craig Elvin saw him receive two yellow cards within two minutes, though Dandenong were not deterred, continuing to push forward and eventually reaping the results.

It would be the leading VPL goal scorer, Luke Sherbon, who put the Thunder ahead after a superb curling free kick dipped past Lewis Italiano in goal.

To their credit, Oakleigh got back into the game and began to string together some neat passes between midfielders Goran Zoric and Rasmus Festersen.

Oakleigh second half substitute Dane Milovanovic’s dangerous run into the box saw him secure the Cannons a penalty after he was taken out by Thunder’s Sean McIlroy.

Ricky Diaco stepped up to take the penalty and easily converted to the left post leaving Thunder keeper Stuart Webster with no chance of saving in the 73rd minute.

Minutes later Oakleigh had a great opportunity to take an unlikely lead after Rasmus Festersen found Ricky Diaco on the edge of the six yard box but his shot went just over the crossbar.

Despite Oakleigh having a strong spell, their hard work would come undone after Luke Walker was given his second yellow card for time wasting after kicking the ball away in frustration.

It left both sides down to ten men and delicately poised at one goal apiece at the 78th minute.

Dandenong seemed to have more intensity and legs in their players and it was their star strike pairing who linked up for the winner with Luke Sherbon assisting Nate Foster inside the box to flick the ball home.

Dandenong Thunder coach Chris Taylor could not hide his delight at winning the treble.

“It was a great effort all round. I think throughout the season we felt we could do it but when it gets a bit closer the nerves kick in and we had a few injuries and suspensions. It just shows what sort of character the boys have got and how good this group is,” he said.

Despite going down to ten men, Taylor still had confidence in his side given the quality in attack.

“You always count on players like Sherbon and Nate up front and people would be silly to disrespect them as they are always likely to do things. Sherbon with the free kick and Nate gets onto one and wins it for us. With that quality up front all season it’s difficult to hold us back.”

After being awarded the Jimmy Rooney Medal for his best on ground performance, Nate Foster was humble about the win after playing an instrumental part in the game.

“It was a good game, I thought I would be nervous as this is the biggest game I have ever played in and it was a hard game against Oakleigh but I am glad we won and we deserved it as we have worked hard all season.”

Meanwhile, a despondent Oakleigh captain Ricky Diaco struggled to come to terms with the loss.

“I am not feeling the best, it’s almost like a bad dream at the moment but that’s reality.  We have lost two years in a row and it hurts.  I don’t know how to feel but there’s not much to say,” he said.

Co-coach for Oakleigh, Peter Zois, conceded that Dandenong were the better side on the day.

“We had a bad first half and it wasn’t optimal. We didn’t stick to things we had been working on throughout the whole season,” he said.

“Dandenong stopped us from playing a particular style and normally we were able to respond and we didn’t have that today and it was not good enough to win the final.”
 Stuart WEBSTER, Bryan BRAN, Craig Elvin, Liam KEARNEY, Iqbal JAWADI, Shpetim MALA, Shane REXHEPI, Sean MCILROY, Ross THOMPSON, Nate FOSTER (93' Veton KORCARI), Luke SHERBON

Unused Subs: Feston AZIZI, Zaim Zeneli, Brendan ELMAZOVSKI,
Goals: Sherbon (69'), Foster (81')
Yellow Cards: Rexhepi (2'), Mala (22'), Elvin (58'), Jawadi (64'), McIlroy (72')
Red Cards: Elvin (59')

Unused Subs: Daniel NEESHAM, Jesse KRNCEVIC
Goals: Diaco (73')

Yellow Cards: Walker (10’), Anderson (57’), Tavsancioglu (68’)
Red Cards: Walker (78’)




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