THE weekend’s Limestone Coast soccer match of the round was played at Bishop Road, where Gambier Centrals hosted Apollo for a nail-biter of a game.
With scores level at half time on one apiece, Apollo took the lead early in the second term, before Centrals managed two further goals to put itself in front at the final whistle.
Centrals coach Nathan Fleetwood played the full 90 minutes on Sunday and finished with two goals to show for his efforts.
He was pleased to see his team come away with the result, especially after last week’s draw against Blue Lake.
The match started evenly and it was clear a close battle was going to be had.
The first goal saw Fleetwood finish off a pass from captain Christian Saint to put Centrals on the board.
The hosts had some further opportunities, but the Apollo defence held firm, before it capitalised on a free kick taken by Cameron Wallace, which Brett Stephenson was able to header into goal over the outstretched hands of Centrals keeper James Kipping.
From there the opening term continued to be a tussle from one end to the other until the whistle sounded and both teams regrouped in preparation for another tough half.
Centrals hit hard in the opening minutes and Lewis March was unlucky to have a shot caught by Apollo keeper Ben Morris.
Apollo youngster Adam Walker returned to the lineup and played a solid game in defence alongside captain Tom Inglis and Cameron Wallace.
Morris also performed and held strong against the constant attack in the later stages of the game, while the likes of Bailey Musci and Stewart Wallace lent their services through the midfield.
Down the other end Erike Irakoze was causing headaches for Centrals’ defenders, with the quick-footed striker making several runs for goal.
However, in the end it was youngster Tumayine Ndabarinze who converted Apollo’s second goal, as he put boot to ball during a scramble in the square to put his team in front, 2-1.
The play from both teams intensified from there and Centrals had some near-misses as they frantically tried to score the equaliser.
Eventually, Jake Blackwell had a shot at goal which was saved by Morris, but his second attempt on the rebound found its target and scores were level at two-all.
Tempers began to flare as the game heated up and when a clever kick off the back of Fleetwood’s boot slotted past Morris, Centrals fans erupted in cheer.
From there Apollo had some chances, but it was Centrals which maintained the intensity to the final whistle, with several close shots which could have extended the margin before full time.
Fleetwood was proud of the performance his team displayed on Sunday and said it was good to have a solid team effort, even if the margin could have been larger.
“We had lots of chances, we could have probably won by a bit more in the end,” he said.
“But it was a good, tough game and credit to Apollo, they made it difficult and took their chances.
“I was incredibly proud of our effort in the second half to come back from 2-1 down.
“It showed a lot of character and that was something we had spoken about during the week – to show some character and fight back and I think we did that really well.”
Fleetwood led by example during the match, as he worked hard for possessions and showed pace going at goals, but he said it was the team effort as a whole which resulted in the victory.
“I do what I can up front, I help the team out as much as I can, but I think Sunday was a team effort, we all contributed really well,” he said.
“Luke Pitson was really good down the back, we missed him last week.
“Then Henry Shoemark and Jake Blackwell in the midfield were both really strong for us.
“Lewis (March) is always going to trouble the opposition once or twice in the game and he has plenty of pace to burn – we have some quick guys up front.”
Kipping also carried good form into the match and worked hard to repel the Apollo attack.
This weekend will see Centrals play its last minor round game against Naracoorte, before having the bye the following round going into finals, while Apollo hosts Portland this week.
Looking forward to finals, Fleetwood said he believes anyone in the top four was in with a chance.
“We will just get in there and see what happens,” he said.
“Everyone plays finals to win them, there is no hiding behind that.
“At the end of the day, I think any team could win.”
In other games International was never doubted when it hosted Naracoorte for a 7-0 win at Casadio Park.
The half-time score saw the black and blue lead by three goals, before banging through four more after the break.
Matt Bueti continued to dominate in front of goals and finished with a bag of five for the match, while Lachlan Charlton and youngster Skayper Johnson also converted.
The final match saw Blue Lake make the trip to Portland to play, where the Rangers emerged 5-1 victors.
Some good footwork from Blue Lake saw the Portland defence and goal keeper work hard all day to keep up, but in the end the guests were too strong.
Doh Say and Yuki Akita led the charge with two goals each, while Bryce Strachan also continued his good form to convert one.