Wollongong FC Crowned TeleChoice Championship Series Winners for 2008


In a match-up featuring the Top-Two sides of the competition ? Sutherland Sharks pipping the Wolves for the Premiership ? Wollongong FC got one back over the Shire side; sending captain Ben Blake off as a winner following the defender?s decision to hang-up his boots.
Wollongong FC benefited from a one-week break after qualifying first for the Grand Final, two weeks ago.
John Turner had the chance to ?recuperate? a number of players carrying injuries for the Final, interestingly enough Osagie Ederaro?s name appeared on the substitutes bench after a long injury lay-off.
Brian Brown?s men were at full strength with the exception of Shane Lyons sitting out the match following his two yellow cards against Sydney Olympic in the Preliminary Final one-week earlier.
Played at an often frantic pace, the encounter started in typical Grand Final fashion as both sides attempted to ?feel? their way into the encounter.
Timid efforts by Ben Spruce (Sutherland Sharks) and Chris Price (Wollongong FC) both down the left-flank were the only forms serious attack mounted in the opening 5? minutes, though both deliveries lacked precision.
Price had a little more luck in the 6? minute as his cross, again from the left-flank, was partially dealt with by goalkeeper Phillip Zabaks; the ball falling to the feet of Matt Bailey who, with the goal at his mercy, could only fire his effort directly at the Sharks? shot-stopper.
Somewhat uncharacteristic of the Wolves defence, confusion presented the Sharks with the opening goal. Brendan Gan cleverly created space as he went one-on-one with Wolves shot-stopper Justin Pasfield. The former Sydney FC goalkeeper cleverly parried the first attempt, though the ball fell to Nick Stavroulakis, and the in-form midfielder calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Stavroulakis, who has been in great touch over the last six-weeks, was involved in all facets of the Sharks play, as he cleverly pushed forward with each counter-attack, yet remained readily available when the side needed to retreat.
His performance on the pitch would have certainly attracted the attention of any A-League representative present.
On 19? minutes, a perfectly weighted cross from the right-flank by Michael Katz picked out Brendan Gan; the Sydney FC U-20 bound signing cleverly moved into position at the back post before volleying his effort over the crossbar.
Wollongong FC signalled a strong warning moments later as a nice one-two between Ilija Prenzoski and Matt Bailey almost provided the latter a goal-scoring chance with only Zabaks to beat; though some quick Neil Jablonski thinking thwarted the Wolves best efforts.
Brendan Gan again found himself in a strong scoring position on 24? minutes after a great show of strength from Sharks? target man, Brad Boardman. The tall striker cleverly held-up play before playing the ball to Gan on the edge of the penalty-area; Gan picked his target though saw his effort flash past Pasfield?s left-hand post.
The Wolves did find their equaliser on 28? minutes as some slack marking by the Sharks? rear-guard provided Matt Bailey with the goal.
A long Michael Hawrysiuk throw-in was flicked on at the near post by Ballamadou Conde for the Wolves; Bailey chimed in with a glancing header from close-range that finished out of goalkeeper Phillip Zabaks? reach.
Sutherland Sharks regained composure, and Nick Stavroulakis? creative thinking 10? minutes before the break almost got the Sharks back in-front. Stavroulakis played a cheeky ?chip pass? into the path of Jim Bakis on the right. The right-sided midfielder hit a first-time effort back across goal, though the Wolves defence diverted the ball for a corner.
On 38? minutes a clumsy Neil Jablonski challenge provided the Wolves with a free-kick opportunity from a slightly de-centralised position. Tynan Diaz stepped-up and whipped in a swerving effort, catching the Sharks rearguard completely unawares as his shot swerved inside the right-hand post; leaving Zabaks with no chance.
Steve Hayes? running in midfield had the Sharks on the back foot again prior to the half-time break, the ?Man of the Match? picked out Ilija Prenzoski with a clever short ball, though a return pass was thwarted by George Souris.
Following the break, Wollongong FC displayed their patience as they awaited their chance to push forward and catch the Sharks out.
Sutherland?s aggressive start to the half didn?t provide a chance to draw level until the 52? minute, when a Ben Spruce cross from the left only just cleared the head of Stavroulakis lurking at the back post.
Sutherland?s Jim Bakis curled in another free-kick from the left-flank, though his main target, Brad Boardman, had the ball ?taken from his head? by a confident Justin Pasfield.
Pasfield?s confidence on 58? minutes had the Wolves supporters? hearts in their mouths as he cheekily dribbled past an oncoming Sutherland Sharks player following a back pass. Pasfield emphatically passed that test.
The Wolves custodian?s clearance saw Ilija Prenzoski played behind the Sharks? defence with space down the right-flank. As the striker played his way into the penalty-area, a challenge by captain George Souris was deemed to be a foul by referee Jonathan Streater; Chris Price stepped-up to take the spot-kick and he powerfully drove his effort into the back of the net.
Sutherland searched bravely for a goal to get back into the encounter though constantly rushed their forward movements at key points. On 63? minutes, a promising Sharks counter-attack was brought to an end when Brendan Gan?s through ball into the path of David Reid was not read by the latter; denying Reid a one-on-one opportunity with Pasfield. 
Ben Spruce then almost caught Pasfield out with a cross from the left-flank. Spruce?s cross-turn-shot hit the top-part of his crossbar before finishing over the goal-line.
Sharks substitute Matthew Hall created a ?nuisance? of himself for his markers with his immense speed. Hall crept in behind the Wolves defence and nearly latched onto the ball with a diving header, only to be anticipated by a more than alert Pasfield.
Hall was again in the mix moments later as he latched onto a searching ball from Gan before side-footing the ball past the out-rushing Pasfield. The Sharks? supporters were on their feet, though the ball trickled into the side-netting.
Wollongong FC almost put the result beyond doubt following what seemed a harmless Wolves corner from the right. The deep cross was hoisted back into the penalty-area, and a glancing Prenzoski header almost surprised Zabaks who did well to divert the ball over his crossbar.
With 4? minutes of injury-time to be played, Sutherland was thrown a life-line as Neil Jablonski was quickest to re-act following a scramble inside the Wolves penalty-area. Jablonski?s presence pressured the Wolves defence, and a loose ball at his feet was fired into the back of the net with 2? minutes remaining.
Sutherland Sharks pressed for what would be a dramatic equaliser, though as is often the case when a team throws all caution to the wind, the Wolves found a fourth goal on the counter-attack.
Substitute Samet Kaynak had been on the park for 2? minutes for the Wolves when he was played through on goal with a delicate flick-on by Prenzoski; Kaynak coolly drew Zabaks off his line before he coolly slotted his effort past the Sharks custodian.
The final 4-2 result was no more than Wollongong FC and their large contingent of supporters deserved, as John Turner?s unbeaten record of Grand Finals with the Wolves continued following last season?s Tiger Turf Cup triumph.
Following the encounter, winning coach John Turner expressed his delight at his side?s achievement:
John Turner: ?This is a tremendous result for this club and for all the people of Wollongong. I am extremely proud of the efforts of each and every player in my side and it has been a real privilege to work with this group.
?I believe that this side won the Grand Final two weeks ago when (against Sutherland) we ?made-do? with a side that carried a lot of injuries and we managed to fight our way through to the Grand Final; it has been a great ride.
?I would have liked to take the lead for once, though the side has made a bit of a habit of coming from behind to win matches; it really is a sign of how much fight there is in this group,? concluded Turner.
Sutherland Sharks boss Brian Brown spoke praise of his side?s efforts, though was visibly disappointed with the final result:
?It is tough to lose a Grand Final, the boys are all very disappointed in the dressing sheds. We gave it a good shot, and we took an early lead which was pleasing.
?Unfortunately though, we conceded some scrappy goals. Some slack marking on the first goal, then a goal from a set-piece along with the penalty was our downfall.
?Our season on the whole has been great ? no one expected Sutherland to do as well as we have and it was ultimately a season where we needed to win everyone?s respect and make others take notice of us. We won the Premiership, Grand Finalist in the Johnny Warren Cup and semi-finalist in the Tiger Turf Cup; I think we have achieved that.?
Wollongong FC captain Ben Blake brought his playing career to a close following the win, announcing his retirement from football:
?I am very happy to get the win today with this great team, great club and wonderful supporter group.
?I have played in Finals before and they never get any easier, even if you have more experience.
?This match today is my final match. I have enjoyed my time playing football though I don?t have the hunger I previously had. For this reason, I have decided to call time on my playing career,? concluded Blake.
Sutherland Sharks Captain George Souris showed all his disappointment at the conclusion of the match:
?It has been a great season for Sutherland as we have come pretty-much from a mid-table side to one that has played incredible football and produced excellent results this season.
?A big thank you must go to our coaching staff, both Brian Brown and Cliff Pointer for their efforts. These two are real champions and a lot is owed to them both for turning this club?s fortunes around.
?For me personally, I have to take responsibility for my performance today. The first goal I didn?t ?close-up? on my opponent and I gave away the penalty, so I have a lot of faults in this match.
?In-terms of my playing career, I guess it will come down to what the boss wants for next season, though I would love to play one more season with this club,? concluded Souris.
The Grand Final ?Man of the Match? Steve Hayes was all smiles at the post-match press conference, citing the entire squad for special mention:
?To be honest, I did not feel that today was my best performance though I am honoured to take this award.
?It is easy to play good football when you are surrounded by fantastic team-mates and tremendous staff and supporters. This has all been vitally important for our side as we have fought all the way to win this trophy.?
Match Stats
Wollongong FC 4 (Matt Bailey 28?, Tynan Diaz 38?, Chris Price 60? (pen), Samet Kaynak 90? + 3?)
Sutherland Sharks 2 (Nick Stavroulakis 8?, Neil Jablonski 90? + 2?)
Venue: CUA Stadium, Penrith.
Referee: Jonathan Streater
Assistant Referees: Murray Wilson and Sarah Ho
Fourth Official: Kristian Griffiths-Jones
Crowd: 4,586 Approx.
Wollongong FC: 1. Justin Pasfield; 5. Steve Hayes, 6. Ilija Prenzoski, 7. Michael Hawrysiuk, 8. Mitchell Long (15. Samet Kaynak 90? + 1?), 10. Ballamadou Conde (2. Alfredo Esteves 62?), 12. Chris Price, 13. Tynan Diaz, 14. Danial Cummins, 17. Ben Blake (C), 19. Matt Bailey
Substitutes Not Used: 16. Karouna Michael, 18. Osagie Ederaro, 20. Michael Turnbull
Coach: John Taylor
Yellow Cards: Ballamadou Conde 41?, Chris Price 67?, Steve Hayes 70?, Alfredo Esteves 79?
Red Cards: Nil
Sutherland Sharks: 99. Phillip Zabaks; 15. Michael Katz, 2. George Souris, 39. Neil Jablonski, 11. Ben Spruce, 8. David Huxley, 7. Jim Bakis (10. Matthew Hall 60?), 14. Nick Stavroulakis, 3. Brendan Gan, 22. David Reid (37. Jim Nikas 75?), 9. Bradley Boardman
Substitutes Not Used: 38. Michael Robinson, 20. James Lawrence, 21. Michael Brandalise
Coach: Brian Brown
Yellow Cards: Neil Jablonski 37?, Michael Katz 59?, George Souris 84?
Red Cards: Nil
Match Statistics:
Shots on goal
Wollongong FC 6
Sutherland Sharks 7

Shots off target
Wollongong FC 3
Sutherland Sharks 14

Wollongong FC 4
Sutherland Sharks 3

Wollongong FC 17
Sutherland Sharks 12

Wollongong FC 2
Sutherland Sharks 1

Player Ratings:
3 ? Steve Hayes (WFC)
2 ? Nick Stavroulakis (SS)
1 ? Chris Price (WFC)
-By Joseph Carlucci