It’s an all-Sydney affair as East Coast Heat meet Inner West Magic in a scintillating 2016 Men’s PUMA F-League Sunday-matinee grand final held at Valentine Sports Park.
The Coasters beat Dural Warriors in a 3-2 semi-final thriller and Inner West upset Vic Vipers 5-1 in the other knockout bout to set up a salivating deciding clash.
East Coast Heat 3 (Grant Lynch, Shervin Adeli, Jordan Guerreiro) Dural Warriors 2 (Greg Giovenali, Nathan Niski)
Vic Vipers 1 (Victor Brauner) Inner West Magic 5 (Daniel Martinez, Dean Lockhart 2, Aaron Cimitile, Mark Symington)
Heat cook Warriors
East Coast withstood a second-half Dural Warriors fightback to win 3-2 and advance to Sunday’s decider at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday morning – Heat’s third straight F-League men’s grand final appearance.
Dural keeper Alistair Bruce was kept busy as East Coast piled on the early pressure, Motomu Koto also on hand on the goal-line to clear Matt Mazevski’s goal-bound grasscutter, and Jamie Dib lobbed a great ball forward for Grant Lynch to chest down beautifully with his first-touch shot blocked low by Bruce to maintain a 0-0 scoreline.
The mounting possession and smothering defence finally took its toll on Warriors midway through the half when Lynch cannoned in a great strike following some solid lead-up play and the buffer almost doubled immediately with a high-playing Bruce dispossessed in the Heat half only for Lachlan Wright’s full-court snipe to ricochet off the upright next to a gaping net.
East Coast did make it 2-0 four minutes from the break with a gorgeous sweeping up-court move that Shervin Adeli finished off sweetly from the top of the D, Dural on the ropes as Heat continued to dominate proceedings, Jordan Guerreiro unlucky not to make it a three-goal gap as his strike whispered to the post as it went over the baseline and ultimately only some critical Bruce saves kept Warriors trailing by only two goals at halftime.
Dural were more composed in the second term and troubled Heat keeper Peter Spathis on separate occasions, Glen Kelshaw somehow finding the crossbar with an audacious attempt as Spathis cleaned up the mess.
Then the Giovenali brothers combined to drag Warriors back into the contest five minutes into the half, Greg powering home Wade’s assist from outside the Heat semi-circle to halve the deficit, while Koto shaved the woodwork with a sharp chance not long after.
Incredibly the game levelled up three minutes later when Jacob Basden laid off for Nathan Niski to hammer home past Spathis, the lure of a grand final berth firing up both sets of players and the officials doing an excellent job in keeping the lid on a simmering pressure-cooker.
With the clock winding down Bruce pulled off a staggering reflex drop to deny Guerreiro’s sharp turn-and-shoot from the top of the D but the Dural shotstopper was left helpless as Adeli went on a canter up court, drew out Bruce and laid off to an open Guerreiro in front of goal who made no mistake to put East Coast 3-2 ahead 10 seconds from the finish.
Heat’s fourth win over Warriors in their last five meetings has certainly hinted at a changing of the guard in Sydney, Dural succumbing to their lowest F-League finish since the inaugural 2011 season, and an imposing Lynch gets a special mention having bobbed up for a Heat goal in four of the last five Warriors exchanges – the Coasters winning each time he scored.
Magic dazzle Vipers
A pumped-up Inner West got the better of men’s premiers Vic Vipers 5-1 in the second semi-final at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday afternoon, Magic’s first-ever F-League championship match.
An electric start from both sides culminated in Inner West snatching a fourth-minute lead as Daniel Martinez prowled the byline before slamming home a low drive to give Magic a 1-0 jump, and Magic kept coming testing Vics keeper Christos Apostolakis on several occasions with the Vipers glovesman making a number of important saves.
Inner West custodian Roberto Maiorana was also equal to the task in denying the Vics from capitalising on their opportunities, allowing Dean Lockhart to double Magic’s advantage with a neatly-taken strike midway through the opening period.
Vipers were unlucky not to score two minutes from the break when Adam Cooper drilled a sideline freekick against the post, and from the ensuing counter Apostolakis dropped superbly to block Mark Symington’s strike at goal and keep the 2-0 scoreline unchanged at halftime.
Inner West advanced their position a minute after the restart when Dean Lockhart rifled home a freekick past Apostolakis from 10m out but the Vics finally broke their duck seconds later with a sweet one-two between Jonathan Barrientos and Victor Brauner resulting in the latter’s finish into a vacant net to trail 3-1.
Chances fell at both ends, Apostalakis dropping to smother Aaron Cimitile’s hot strike and Brauner going agonisingly wide of the post for Vipers, a cat-like Maiorana reflex brilliantly tipping away Jordan Constantinidis in front of goal moments later.
The Vics went to a fifth-man powerplay with seven minutes remaining and it almost paid off as Maiorana had to acrobatically parry Brauner’s shot from outside the D, and the game was all but killed off when Cimitile drilled home Magic’s fourth, picking up a yellow card for a silly salute to the Vipers bench as he celebrated, while Mark Symington added Inner West’s cherry with an open-net goal two minutes from the end.