By Lance Jenkinson
Green Gully has executed the great escape to keep its spot in the National Premier League soccer top flight next season.
The Cavaliers had one foot firmly planted in the second tier NPL 2 for most of their promotion-relegation play-off final against Moreland City at AAMI Park on Sunday, but pulled off a miraculous comeback to win 3-2 in extra time.
For most of the 90 minutes, relegation looked to be a reality that powerhouse Green Gully would have to come to terms with.
The Cavaliers stared a harrowing two goal deficit in the face after 89 minutes.
This was not a game in which the Cavaliers dominated and were out of luck either, it was one they were out-enthused and second best.
When Ratip Cieli toe-poked the ball past Cavaliers goalkeeper Lucas Spinella to make it 2-0 to Moreland City with one minute of regulation time remaining, there was certainly no inkling of the miracle that was to unfold for Green Gully in stoppage time.
The fourth official put four minutes up on the board – most believing it only served City a chance to lap up the spoils of their fine work.
Green Gully had other ideas.
The Cavaliers saw stoppage time as one final chance to preserve their top tier status.
Then, out of the blue, a speculative cross nodded on by Mitch Cooper found its way to the back post, where Cavaliers defender Manny Muscat tapped home in the 91st minute to halve the deficit.
Muscat’s influence when Green Gully coach Stephen Downes called on him as a second half substitute was enormous.
The veteran was enterprising with his attacking play out of defence, every ball reached its intended target and his defensive energy detonated a number of City forays forward.
Muscat would turn from scorer to provider for the unlikely equaliser in the 93rd minute.
Jay Davies, who was a ball of energy himself all day, floated in a cross that was only half-cleared away by the City defence.
Muscat put a header back into the mixer where Callum Richardson was waiting and finished with a header.
The ball only crossed the line by a matter of centimetres, but it was all it took for the game to go into extra time.
With the extra 30 minutes, Green Gully finally got a stranglehold on the game, though Moreland City was not without its chances.
Eventually, Green Gully got right on top.
Davies continued to pass and run, continually providing an option, while Cooper and George Lambadaridis got more involved as the game went on.
And then it happened for Green Gully.
Krousoratis played a fine through ball to Cooper, but Cooper’s shot was parried away by City goalkeeper Kieran McDowell into the feet of an on-charging Krousoratis, who backed up to fire the ball into the back of the net, keeping Green Gully in the top flight for another season.
Green Gully undoubtedly dodged a bullet.
The Cavaliers went into 2018 as one of the fancied teams for the NPL title, but finished the season third-last. There has to be a summer of soul searching at Green Gully to ensure it is not in this position again in 12 months time.