Belligerent ‘Bergers Hold Out Thunder

George Katsakis
By John Fotinos

Confidence plays a large part in developing a winning culture in a sporting team. It was apparent in the manner of the approach to Heidelberg United’s game pan in its away match at George Andrews Reserve on Saturday.

It’s a far cry from the team that was soundly beaten in the opening two games of the 2022 season (3 – 1 away to South Melbourne at Lakeside and a 0 – 4 drubbing by Dandenong Thunder at the Olympic Village). The George Katsakis mantra is to treat the second half of the NPL season as a mini-season within itself – and, seemingly, the team has responded in kind. The confidence gained by defeating the league leader South Melbourne last week was on show with a stirring 2 – 1 win over Dandenong Thunder.

Make no mistake – this was a mature performance from a team that is learning rapidly how to win when the situation conspires against it. It withstood an opponent that enjoyed a boisterous home crowd to roar it on, and playing a man down for a turbulent last half hour, and ultimately a nerve jangling last three minutes of injury time with just nine men. Backs to the wall stuff – but a priceless three points earned, building momentum, and now just a point from a top six spot.

A typically tight Thunder v Bergers match with few chances at both ends early on – most notably to Sulemani for Thunder and Josh Pin for the Bergers – suddenly came to life on the half hour mark, when Fetahagic was on hand to head home from close range to give the Bergers the lead. Josh Pin was proving a handful & might have been unfortunate to not win a penalty, but in the dying moments of the half, Yildiz handled the ball leading to a Berger penalty kick. Adrian Zahra kept his nerve to convert coolly, with the skipper making it 2 – 0 to the Bergers at half time.

With the Bergers seemingly well in control of the match, Tarjiath was sent off for a second bookable offense on the hour mark. The home side, sensing an opportunity, began to up the tempo. Despite some resolute defending from the Bergers, Thunder captain Sulemni halved the deficit with just under twenty minute to play.

Despite maintaining the lion’s share of possession, and reducing the Bergers to sporadic counter attacks, Thunder was unable to forge a decent opening. Despite the late sending off of Ninkovic for two instances of dissent in quick succession, the Bergers successfully managed to negotiate a hard earned 2 – 1 win.

Apart from moving above Thunder with the win, Heidelberg will take a psychological advantage over its opponent when they next meet in the Round 7 Football Australia Cup match at the same venue in just over a fortnight’s time – with the winner of that game guaranteed a final 32 berth in the main national draw.

Next up for Heidelberg United is another crucial match – against sixth placed Bentleigh Greens at the Olympic Village on Sunday June 5 – kick off is at 3:00pm.