Edgeworth Eagles young guns Keanu Moore and Aden Gardner stood tall as the unfancied visitors caused a huge upset in the Elimination Final of the PlayStation 4 NPL Finals Series, beating Victoria's Bentleigh Greens 3-1.
The Eagles made history yet again in an incredible 2016 season, becoming the first Northern NSW club to reach the Semi-Finals of the NPL Finals Series.
It was the Bentleigh Greens though who started the stronger, on a warm Victorian afternoon. Matt Thurtell hit the post in the 10 th minute and four minutes later Thurtell was at in again heading another cross into the upright.
Former A-League Golden Boot Daniel McBreen had a half-chance for the Eagles before half-time, but he scuffed his left-foot shot across the face.
Right on half-time the visitors had a huge shout for a penalty when Dylan Holz charged down the left edge and played a pinpoint cross to Moore running down the centre of the park. Moore controlled the ball and was clipped by Bentleigh centre-back Troy Ruthven, in what looked a certain penalty, but referee Chris Hope waved it away.
That would be the last chance of the half, as both sides went into the sheds at Kingston Heath locked at 0-0.
After the break, it was the Eagles who came out the stronger and Keanu Moore got his reward for a brilliant performance in the 54 th minute. Edgeworth’s Brody Taylor ran down the right edge of the box and found Moore in the middle, who calmly rolled his right foot shot across Ryan Scott in the Bentleigh goal and into the bottom left corner.
The Greens then went about finding an equaliser, while the Eagles were happy to sit back and attack on the break.
Thurtell continued to be a constant danger for the Edgeworth defence and he almost levelled the match up in the 68 th minute when his powerful drive from just outside the box on the was brilliantly saved by Jim Fogarty as he dived low to his right.
Ten minutes later Ryan Paczkowski hit the post for Bentleigh, before Daniel McBreen had a chance to seal the match for the Eagles on a counter attack moments later, but couldn’t find the target.
Bentleigh then made the Eagles pay. They were always coming in the second half and in the final minutes of regulation time, John MacLean found some space through the Eagles defence as he cut inside the left edge of the box and buried his shot into the bottom right corner. It was no better time for MacLean to score his first goal for the club, as Kingston Heath erupted.
The match was destined for extra-time, but Edgeworth had a late chance throughs substitute Sam Maxwell, however his shot from outside the box was straight at keeper Ryan Scott.
And for just the second time since the NPL Finals commenced in 2013, the match would need extra-time to decide who would make the semi-finals.
Just like the first half script the Eagles were back in front early on in extra-time through substitute Aden Gardner. After scoring some big goals for the Eagles throughout the NPL Northern NSW season, he delivered in another big match.
McBreen whipped in a hard left-footed cross from the right side and Gardner deep in the box headed towards the near post. Almost in slow-motion the ball bounced into the right corner away from the diving Ryan Scott, and the visitors were in front once more.
Just like the back end of the second half Bentleigh dominated most of possession and field position for the rest of the half.
Kamal Ibrahim had the best chance for the Greens. His free-kick was well saved by Fogarty who tipped it over the bar to keep the Eagles lead in tact.
After the break, the home side pressed for an equaliser once more, however unlike the second half of the match the Greens couldn’t find an it and Edgeworth hit them on the break. Dylan Holz threaded the needle down the middle of the park, and Gardner raced onto it, before drawing in Scott and slotting into the bottom left corner.
After becoming the first Northern NSW side to reach the FFA Cup Round of 16 earlier in the year, they now become the first Northern NSW side to make the semi-finals of the NPL Finals in a season where they were also the minor and major premiers of the NPL Northern NSW.
It was an impressive result from the Eagles who will now play the winner of Perth and Devonport to be played on Saturday night.