THE Limestone Coast soccer match of the round did not disappoint on Sunday, as ladder leader International hosted second-placed Gambier Centrals in an epic clash for Round 8 of the premiership season.
The game – which was also the Indigenous round as part of NAIDOC week – saw Inter don new strips across all grades, with the welcome to country held before the A Grade match.
In the end it was a game of two halves, as Inter broke away to a 2-0 lead at half time, before Centrals hit back with two of its own in the second term to finish the day with a two-all draw.
This result summed the match up well, as both teams showed winning form at various stages throughout the contest.
Centrals hits its straps early and from the first whistle controlled the ball well and hit hard against Inter’s defence.
Multiple shots on goal were saved by experienced goal-keeper Brayden May, before the hosts could turn the momentum to their favour.
Inter found its feet and it was then Centrals’ keeper James Kipping who found himself under pressure and, despite some good saves, Inter was eventually able to convert.
Inter captain Christian Cella served his side well once again, scoring both goals for his team within minutes of each other, the second of which came from a well-placed header.
This quick turn around saw the level score suddenly become a two-goal lead and while Centrals hit back from there, it was unable to narrow the margin before half time.
Carrying some pace into the break, Centrals started strong again in the second term and was rewarded for its efforts when Jake Blackwell scored early.
Centrals’ Lewis March showed plenty of pace down the wing in the opening term and he continued to do so after the break, which saw him assist the equaliser midway through the half.
His shot on goal was saved by May, but it deflected off his hands to allow Calen Sheedy a second attempt, this time finding the back of the net.
From that point on Inter started to panic and lifted its game in a desperate effort to convert.
Centrals had its own chances to put the game away, but in the end neither team could capitalise and the premiership points were divided.
This now puts Blue Lake in second place on the ladder, after it claimed a convincing win over Millicent, while Centrals drops to third.
The match provided plenty of excitement for newly appointed Inter co-coaches Travis McDonald and Michael Prior, as they settle into the head position following Gareth VonDuve’s step down from the helm.
McDonald said “it was an interesting game” and players were disappointed to not take the full points, but they will not dwell on it moving forward.
Looking at the match, McDonald said May’s performance in goals during the opening 10 minutes was “outstanding”.
“Centrals come out strong at the start and in the first 10 to 15 minutes we could not break them down at all,” he said.
“After that probably the next 30 minutes of the first half we were really good and scored a couple.
“Then in the last 10 minutes they were pretty good leading into half time.”
McDonald said the aim at half time was to maintain structure and not get carried away despite the lead.
However, with Centrals able to level the scores, it was a frantic rush to the end for both sides.
“I thought we pretty well dominated the last 15 minutes, but we just could not score,” McDonald said.
“I think at the end of the day two-all was probably a fair result.”
In terms of best players, Christian Cella could not be looked past for Inter, as he continued to lead by example.
“Christian Cella was absolutely outstanding,” McDonald said.
“Ricky (McRobert) and Fintan (Cuthbertson) had really good games and Skayper (Johnson) out on the wing-back position was really good as well.
“They were probably my top four.”
McDonald said taking on the role of coach has been a big step, but one he is enjoying so far.
“Gaz had to take a step back with his health and I have had to take the role with Michael Prior,” he said.
“It is a big jump, it is a big club and it is a big step up for me.
“There are some pretty big personalities (in the team), but they have responded really well and the leadership group has really got around me and shown its support, as has the club itself.”
On the other end of the pitch, Centrals coach Nathan Fleetwood believed it was “a game of two halves”, but he was most impressed by his team’s efforts to come away with the draw.
“Those first 10 minutes we were really pushing and then they got the two goals,” he said.
“Then I think in the second half we really showed what we were capable of and showed incredible character to come back from 2-nil on their home ground.
“I do not imagine they would have had that done to them too many times.”
Fleetwood was proud of what his players achieved on Sunday and credited them on their second half, while he said it was “a fair result” at the final whistle.
With Sheedy making his return to the side following a suspension, Luke Pitson also took to the field for Centrals and made his mark on the game.
These players had plenty of impact in the side and Fleetwood pointed out both of their performances in what he described as a good team effort.
“Sunday was a real team performance, everyone contributed,” he said.
He also mentioned David Cole down back and Craig Wright in the midfield, who both had solid games.
The previous meeting between the two sides saw Inter with a 3-0 win, so this result is a positive sign for Centrals as it looks deeper into the second half of the season.
“We are slowly building and we are getting better and better,” Fleetwood said.
“We are getting everyone fitter and we are getting everyone back from injury, so we are heading in the right direction.”
There was no doubting the best A Grade match for Round 8 was at Casadio Park, as the remaining two games saw blown-out results.
Blue Lake hosted Millicent for a convincing 8-1 victory, which saw it overtake Centrals and move into second place on the premiership ladder.
With a scoreline of 3-1 at the half-time break, the Rangers opened up in the second term to bang through five unanswered goals.
Off the back of a four-goal haul against Naracoorte the week before, Yuki Akita maintained his current form to lead the way with three for the match.
He was joined by Bryce Strachan, who ventured out of defence to claim two goals, while Michael Walters, Si Pler and So Htoo bagged one each.
The final match for the round saw Naracoorte host Portland in another big win for the weekend.
However, this win did not come without a fight, as the scores were level on two-all at the break.
Naracoorte pushed hard in the second half to claim its third victory for the season, 7-2.
Andrew Diment bagged five goals while James Duff and Anthony Zahau both slotted singles.