Melbourne Knights defeated Oakleigh Cannons 1-0 in the NPL Victoria Round 20 catch up match at Knights Stadium on Wednesday night.
The result saw Oakleigh drop out of the race for first place and handed South Melbourne the inaugural National Premier League Victoria title.
Andrew Marth made five changes to the starting XI that defeated South Springvale in the Dockerty Cup Final last Sunday afternoon due to the short turnaround.
A youthful, inexperienced Knights team, including debutant Tomislav Fadljevic, put in a disciplined performance to secure the three points.
Stipo Andrijasevic broke the deadlock in the 80th minute with a fine goal that ultimately proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Receiving the ball on the left, Andrijasevic showed a good turn of pace to charge towards the penalty area, beat a defender but cooly slotting the ball past Oakleigh goalkeeper John Honos and into the bottom right corner of the goal.
Man of the match for Knights was goalkeeper Michael O’Farrell who put in undoubtedly his best senior performance since coming into the side for the suspended Chris May.
On a number of occasions, O’Farrell stepped up when needed most to pull off crucial saves which kept Knights in the contest.
The first half saw Oakleigh take control of the game early, but the Knights defence did well to contain the threat for not only the majority of the opening stanza, but the entire 90 minutes.
Knights worked its way back into the contest as the game progressed, creating more genuine chances into the second period.
For the home side, Dockerty Cup Final hero Tomislav Uskok had a golden chance to take the lead just minutes before Andrijasevic’s opener, when Leo Athanasiou found him unmarked in the box with a pinpoint cross.
Unfortunately his header thundered off the crossbar, rather than settling in the net.
Bar a chance for Oakleigh’s Rowan McNamee, which O’Farrell dealt with well, Knights dominated the final ten minutes of the game.
Nik Srbinovski had a goal ruled out for a foul on the keeper, before Andrijasevic was controversially called off side after being played in behind the Cannons’ defence and on goal.
The referee’s whistle ended a good performance by the Knights which will no doubt have pleased Andrew Marth, who must have been concerned about the strength of his squad heading into the game.
The Knights next game is away to Ballarat on Saturday, 06 September. Kick off at the Red Devil’s Morshead Park is at 5:45pm.