RELATED COVERAGE: GSL grand final preview
MOE United and Sale United upset the Gippsland Soccer League’s top two teams in the weekend’s semi-finals to advance to the league grand final.
For the second year running the sides that finished at the top of the league tree were cut down prior to the big dance, with unbeaten Churchill toppled by the Swans 5-1, while form team of the competition Falcons fell to the Red Devils 0-1.
Falcons v Moe Utd
THE free-flowing Falcons that flayed Morwell Pegasus in the midweek cup semi-final were nowhere to be seen at Latrobe City Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Unable to break down an elastic Red Devils defence, Falcons looked stumped in the final third with touches from league golden boot winner Jesse Kennedy few and far between.
The first half saw just a handful of clear chances fall at either end, though Falcons thought they had broken through prior to the break, appealing in vain at a ‘keeper fumble which arguably crossed the goal line.
Drama was saved for late in the half, when Moe’s Joel Baldwin hammered a low drive at goal, which ‘keeper Adam Brooker dropped into the path of Ash Birrell who could not get enough on it to beat the custodian on the rebound.
Falcons broke quickly to the other end, where coach Nick D’Alessandro was felled around the 18 yard box without reward, before Moe striker Luke Bathgate’s glancing header was deflected by Brooker to end the half 0-0.
Bathgate squandered another free header around the penalty spot on 53 minutes as Moe pressed forward to start the second half, with Baldwin’s long offensive throw-ins causing issues for the Falcons defence.
On 60 minutes 2013 golden boot winner Ash Birrell had two cracks at a free kick 20 yards out, after his initial strike thundered into the wall, but neither found the target.
Falcons’ best chance came minutes later, when a piercing long ball bounced over the Moe ‘keeper, but the birds could not finish from an acute angle.
The Red Devils countered quickly, and won a penalty on the rebound.
Birrell fired the dot shot low and left, and while Brooker got a hand to it was unable to deflect the ball away from goal as Moe went 1-0 up with 25 minutes to play. Sam Amaira and Joe Auciello were soon introduced off the Falcons bench to spark some life to the forward line, and Kennedy was soon in on the action, creating a chance in the box after a neat run.
Falcons continued to press but found no way through a resolute Red Devils defence, with a last gasp D’Alessandro strike from close range flying over the bar to sum up the birds’ day.
In the dying moments Brooker joined the offence for a series of corner kicks, hoping to emulate Sale ‘keeper Chris Richardson’s semi-final heroics, but was near knocked out for his troubles as Moe scrambled a clearance.
The final whistle was blown moments later, leaving Moe coach Lee Dastey and his charges buoyant.
“It was hard fought, we didn’t get to rest at all during the game… which you expect in a semi-final,” Dastey said.
“We came here knowing it was going to be hard to break Falcons down, and it was, and each game we’ve played has been quite tight.
“We knew they’re pretty young, fit and mobile so it was a matter of keeping up with them, we’ve probably got a few years on them so it was always going to be a challenge.
“It’s an exciting week when you get into a grand final, it’s something to look forward to all week and you just hope at the end of it you put in a good performance.”
Sale Utd v Churchill Utd
Sale United earned the right to defend the finals series trophy with a crushing 5-1 victory over Churchill at Hazelwood South Reserve on Saturday night.
The Swans decimated the undefeated Rams with four second half goals to advance to a second straight GSL grand final. Dean Nichols handed the Swans a 1-0 advantage ahead of half-time, but Taylor Jackson levelled scores for the Rams after the break.
Swans striker Jon Piefke soon re-established Sale’s lead, before a Tommy Nguyen double and one to Kristian Phillips sealed a comprehensive victory.
Sale co-coach Ross McWhirter said the plan to catch Churchill on the counter worked wonders in the second half procession.
“We knew they were probably going to start changing things around at half-time, so we… just wanted to hold our structure and we knew we’d probably absorb a bit of pressure and catch them on the break” he said.
“We managed to score three or four goals on the break and really put the game to bed after they equalised.”
Sale won last year’s grand final 3-0 over Monash, and will aim for a repeat this weekend.