Goals from John Tsironis and Kosta Lagoudakis gave the Berries a 2-0 lead before half-time but the Lions managed to reduce the deficit after the half-time interval through a headed finish by towering defender Paul Karbon. The home side restored their two-goal advantage just four minutes later however via Michael Cunico, before substitute Josh Sama added a fourth goal in the final minute to cap an end to a relatively successful season for West Sydney.
Within five minutes of the kick-off the intentions of the West Sydney Berries were made clear: there was to be no sympathy offered to Ken Schembri and his Blacktown players. West Sydney midfielder Kosta Lagoudakis controlled a long-ball outside the penalty box using his chest, before spreading it to the left-flank for the typically overlapping Archie Kotsopoulos. The Berries captain whipped in a fast-paced cross which was only half-cleared by a Blacktown head, falling at the feet of Tirovski whose hard shot smacked against the body of a Demons defender.
On 14? minutes the Berries would go within centimeters of taking the lead, as Archie Kotsopoulos embarked on another attacking raid down the left-hand side, hitting the by-line at full speed before centering for the on-rushing Tsironis who produced a bullet-header which clipped the top of the cross-bar as it flashed over Matthew Nemes in the Blacktown goal.
The breakthrough would come only three minutes later however, as John Tsironis produced a finish worthy of any lead on a football pitch.
And it would again be the pace of Kotsopoulos which would create the opportunity, as the veteran left-back beat defender Luke Austin to the by-line before producing a low cross to the near post. Tsironis attacked the delivery, getting to the ball before his marker and producing a wonderfully deft flick with the outside of his boot which flew over the outstretched fingertips of Nemes and into the back of the net for a deserved 1-0 lead.
A positive response from Blacktown followed, as they immediately forced a corner when Berries goalkeeper Hamish McLean tipped over a long-range effort. Dukic delivered the set-piece which evaded a cluster of bodies in the penalty box before arriving at the back-post where Kartson ghosted in unmarked, only to see his header glanced wide of the woodwork.
The Demons would pay for a lack of creativity in-front of goal and moments of ill-discipline in defence, as a deep cross by Johnny Fotiadis on 38? minutes found the unmarked Lagoudakis in the box. The Berries midfielder planted a firm header past Nemes and into the back of the net to give the home side the simples of 2-0 leads.
A frantic start to the second-half saw Blacktown threatening to find a way back into the match, with the energetic Ken Chun having his close-range shot blocked by McLean on 53? minutes.
Five minutes later and Tsironis almost had his second goal in spectacular fashion, as he produced a diving header to meet a Johnny Fotiadis cross from the right-hand touch-line. Despite getting ahead of the defender and connecting cleanly with the ball, goalkeeper Matthew Nemes positioned himself well enough to produce a comfortable save.
Blacktown?s increased drive and enthusiasm after the break ? forcing the Berries to work hard to maintain their two-goal cushion ? finally yielded a goal which was deserving of their overall effort. Midfield stand-out Awasei Agyei deceived a static Berries defence who were expecting him to shoot from a promising position outside the box, but the Blacktown player instead deftly floated his free-kick over the wall and toward the back-post, where defender Paul Karbon glided in and headed past a helpless McLean.
The Demon renaissance would only last four minutes however, as the Berries retained their two-goal lead via the head of Michael Cunico. Blacktown goalkeeper Matthew Nemes struggled to punch clear a West Sydney corner and the ball looped up into the air. Showing excellent concentration and balance, Cunico headed the ball at goal and it cleared a wall of Blacktown defenders and their goalkeeper before going in off the crossbar.
To their credit, the Demons continued to press forward despite the 3-1 lead and Karbon almost grabbed his second of the afternoon on 78? minutes when he narrowly flicked over a near-post cross by substitute Joel Chianese, who determinedly found space on the right-hand flank.
A tiring Demons outfit conceded a fourth goal in injury-time, as Berries substitute Josh Sama slid the ball past the on-coming Nemes and into the back of the net after being released through on goal.
A long season for the defending champions finally ended, with much work clearly needed on and off the football pitch.
Nonetheless, the Demons and the Berries have both maintained their dignity and competitiveness throughout an often turbulent TeleChoice Premier League season. The good news for the two clubs: that they will both be back to compete in the state?s premier football competition next season.
Berries co-coach Spiro Hantzis described his season in one word ?Relief? before going on to add that he was ?proud? of his player?s accomplishments this season, whilst fellow co-coach Ramsin Shamon was slightly more charitable in his description of the club?s turnaround and his first taste as a fully-fledged manager as ?spectacular?.
Hantzis expressed a great pride in seeing his old club retain their status at the top-level of NSW football:
?We aimed to avoid relegation and we did. The players remained focused and positive, it was a deserved result and a good finish to the season.
?We took over towards the end of the season and at training we?ve been working to get this result and the goals finally did come but perhaps, not as soon as we would have liked.
The Canterbury-Marrickville veteran also reserved special praise for Ken Schembri?s Bankstown side, who provided a stern contest for the Berries this afternoon:
?Young kids, these days the kids who are 16, 17 years old are coming to the fore. It doesn?t matter how old you are, it is how good you are and good on Blacktown for allowing these players to step-up.
?But for next season, it comes down to preparation and a good pre-season, working on the things from the last 6-8 weeks that we?ve been here.
?One word to sum up what I?m feeling right now? Relief. But also pride in the boys, it is good to see my old club hanging in there!?
Co-coach Ramsin Shamon said he was satisfied with an ultimately successful West Sydney season:
?It?s been a long year of hits and misses for us but in a debutant year, we had a target and we?ve over-achieved. Since August last year we?ve worked really hard and if you look at it, we were probably ten points shy of the semi-finals, so we haven?t been that far away and should be closer to them than that.
?It has been a successful season, a year to remember and I think next year we will be stronger, next year will see us learn a lot of lessons from this year.
?We?ve got a great squad and I think what has let us down this year has been our discipline. A few games I can remember, at least five or six, where red cards have killed us. Ill-discipline in any form of competitive football is devastating.?
A philosophical Ken Schembri was gracious in defeat and says his young side have left a legacy which may transcend the bounds of state football in the future:
?I don?t think it was a disappointing season. Given the youngsters we had, at the end of the day it was all going to be very tough, particularly today; they [the Berries] had a lot to play for and we weren?t good enough ? it was as simple as that.
?We had a lot of chances today and didn?t take them, at 2-1 we were back in the game but then conceded a soft one and that was it. But in the end, they were a bit more experienced than us, a bit more accomplished than us and at the end of the day, we ran last and probably deserved to: we?ve got a lot of work to do.
?At the moment we?ll just get away, have a look at things and begin a rebuilding process. We?ll have to do a few things a little differently if we want to do better.
?Obviously, we knew we were going to have a tough year and we had it.?
WEST SYDNEY BERRIES 4 (John Tsironis 18?, Kosta Lagoudakis 38?, Michael Cunico 75?, Gosue Sama 90?)
BLACKTOWN CITY DEMONS 1 (Paul Karbon 70?)
Venue: Sydney Olympic Park Athletic Centre
West Sydney Berries: 1. Hamish MCLEAN; 8. Johnny FOTIADIS, 3. Omar SAADI, 5. Michael CUNICO, 7. Scott THOMAS, 10. John TSIRONIS (18. Josh SAMA 66?), 11. Aheleas KOTSOPOULOS, 15. Kosta LAGOUDAKIS (19. Dimitri ZAKILAS 87?), 17. Sash TIROVSKI (12. Neill PHILLIPOU 84?), 20. Angelo PETRATOS, 21. Joshua FERGUSON
Substitutes Not Used: (GK) James WEBB, 14. Craig JACOB
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
Blacktown City Demons: 1. Matthew NEMES; 2. Luka DUKIC, 3. Paul Karbon, 5. Ryan WALSH, 6. Ken CHUN (15. Joel CHIANESE 65?), 8. Chris BEDZO, 10. Sean ROONEY, 13. Ben ELLIS, 16. Luke AUSTIN (9. Bruno SALAS 49?), 17. Graeme FORBES, 19. Awasei Agyei (29. Harrison MARSH 84?)
Substitutes Not Used: 40. David HARRIS, 18. Nick KAPSIS
Yellow Cards: 19. Awasei AGYEI 73?
Red Cards: Nil
3 ? Archie Kotsopoulos (WSB)
2 ? Johnny FOTIADIS (WSB)
1 ? Awasei Agyei (BCD)
-By Chris Paraskevas