Mirabella Cup: Second half charge sees Knights through to Cup Final

The Melbourne Knights’ Mirabella Cup dream has continued to prosper, following a memorable 2-1 triumph over fellow VPL side Oakleigh Cannons at the Kingston Heath Soccer Complex last night.

The win cements their berth in the inaugural Mirabella Cup Final against Northcote City, who crushed Green Gully’s dream of a historical Victorian treble by prevailing 2-0 in the other Semi-Final tie.

After trailing 1-0 at the half time interval, the Knights overturned the deficit in charismatic fashion, showcasing heart, temperament, fortitude and above all, a cohesive brand of football that has reflected the Knights’ long and proud history.

Second half goals from captain, Josip Kozic and substitute Yusuf Yusuf ultimately proved to be a hurdle too vast for the Cannons to overcome.

In a typical game of two halves, the Cannons were seemingly the more dominant team in the opening period, and consequently paid the price for not pouncing while the Knights were still finding their feet.

The Cannons squandered two golden opportunities to open their account in the opening 15 minutes of the match.

The first came when Knights’ full-back Leo Shin attempted to play a square ball from the right wing back to his centre half. Leigh Minopoulos read the play brilliantly and intercepted the pass with ease. Whilst shrugging off a defender, Minopoulos ran into the area and shot wide to the left with only the keeper to beat.

If that wasn’t exasperating enough for the Oakleigh devotees, moments later Joshua Groenewald squandered a brilliant opportunity by hitting the ball aimlessly in the direction of the keeper, after being played through on the right side of the box.

Whilst Oakleigh were seemingly dominating in all facets of the park, the Cannons almost received an untimely sucker punch at the other end. Brandon Zezovski waltzed his way down the left flank and cut the ball back in brilliantly in the path of Craig Sweeney, although he wasn’t able to finish, sailing his first time shot well over the bar.

Evidently, both outfits were eager to play attacking football, although a lack of composure and patience were their major downfalls.

Oakleigh’s continuous persistence was finally rewarded after 26 minutes, courtesy of a set piece. An Ante Cicak free-kick wide on the right wing was not dealt with by the Knights’ defence. Frankie Lagana leapt highest to flick his header into the bottom left corner of the net.

The Cannons continued to inflict colossal amounts of pressure on the Knights’ defence, although a lack of composure and wasteful finishing proved to be Oakleigh’s worst enemy.

To the Knights’ credit, the second half was a complete dissimilarity to their first half performance.

Whilst there were little chances in the opening few minutes after the recommencement, captain courageous, Josip Kozic inspired a fruitful comeback for the Knights, with a devastating three-minute period which saw the Knights take the lead, amid two goals in quick succession.

The equaliser came after 60 minutes, when Kozic received a prolific through ball to find himself with only the keeper to beat. With time to spare, Kozic blasted the ball past Daniel Weesham.

The celebrations were vibrant, with the Knights’ faithful sent into raptures, however the party kept on going for the contingency of supporters, with super sub Yusuf completing an astonishing comeback. Yusuf’s fierce drive from the edge of the area gave Weesham little chance to save his team’s blushes, as the Knights took the lead in a startling turn of events.

The Knights were a rejuvenated outfit, appearing overwhelmingly positive streaming forward, whilst encompassing an attacking foray to be reckoned with. Their ability to pierce the opposition’s defence with vigour, holding possession with quick and precise ball movement were all apparent.

There’s no doubt that the Knights came out with guns blazing and seemed distinctly enthusiastic to make amends for their poor showing in the opening period.

The final 20 minutes were reminiscent of a typical cup affair, end to end football with fast transition from defence to attack. Whilst neither side created many chances, Oakleigh endeavoured to fight their way back into the contest, pouring numbers forward in search of an equaliser while the Knights withstood the Cannons’ charge, defending robustly in a coherent manner.

The Melbourne Knights’ 2-1 feat was undoubtedly a tremendous night for the players, coaches, staff and their supporters. A club with a rich vein of history and success will be determined to write their names on the 2011 Mirabella Cup trophy. Only Northcote City stands in their way.

Oakleigh Cannons: Frankie Lagana (26’)
Melbourne Knights: Josip Kozic (60’), Yusuf Yusuf (63’)

If you attended the VPL Grand Final last week, simply bring your ticket to the Mirabella Cup Final this Saturday at AAMI Park for $10 entry!

By Robert Di Fabio

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