By Peter Stephenson
As club Mooroolbark Soccer Club president Stuart Milne says every week, this was a huge weekend at the Kennel (aka Esther Park). No really, this was massive.
On Friday the Barkerettes had beaten Malvern 2-1 to stay on Clifton Hill’s coat-tails. Saturday morning was the Miniroos’ gala, with future Barker stars strutting their stuff. Saturday evening was the club’s 60th anniversary celebration, where Barkers legends past and present came together to celebrate the storied history of the club that was instrumental in the inception of the National Soccer League.
As if that wasn’t enough, Saturday afternoon saw Men’s State 2 South-East’s match of the season. Barkers, sitting second and on a run of five wins in a row, hosted Collingwood City, league leaders, fully seven points ahead.
Collingwood had lost only once this season and were unbeaten in 14 games. Barkers’ men and women had turned Esther Park into a fortress – neither side had lost at home in the league for well over a year. The stage was set for a thriller as Esther Park was teeming with familiar faces old and new.
However, City were in a party-pooping mood as they set about proving why they’re top dogs. After only five minutes, they won a free-kick on the left. When the ball came into the box, it found a melee of players, from which emerged the head of Adam Crabb, whose glancing effort took the ball beyond keeper Mark Naumowicz into the net to give the visitors an early lead.
Collingwood continued to have the ascendancy for the first 20 minutes as they provided Barkers’ sternest test of the season. After 10 minutes the lead was almost doubled when a header from close-range saw Naumowicz brilliantly tip the ball onto the bar – it would be interesting to know just how many points our keeper has effectively won this season.
Eventually, Barkers played their way out of the relentless City pressure. On 21 minutes, Paul McEvoy, whose unerringly accurate long balls have been a feature of recent weeks, sent a great ball over to the left for Jack Buglass, who was pulled down – free-kick to Barkers. Liam Seaye stepped up and placed the ball perfectly into the top corner of the net to give Michael Van Eijk no chance and make it 1-1.
To appreciate how the stars aligned, a little context is required.
The mathematicians among you will have worked out that the club was founded in 1962, with David Klepac’s grandfather as president, and his father Vlado as a foundation player. David himself terrorised defences in the 80s and 90s, which means that the club’s first direct third-generation player is none other than Mr Sam Klepac.
Sean Perrin has been providing some terrific assists recently, and hit another beautiful ball in from the left. Sam Klepac muscled his marker off the ball before belting the ball into the top corner for another screamer – Barkers were now 2-1 up against a side that had not lost for 14 games, and the goal, on this auspicious day, was scored by the great-grandson of the club’s first president.
There were some perplexing refereeing decisions in the rest of the half as City tried to bully Barkers without being punished (an elbow to Klepac’s head, then Geordie Scott got chopped), then City crossed from the right. The ball ricocheted dangerously around the box before Michael Swinnerton’s shot went wide.
Right on half-time, Perrin and Klepac combined to almost repeat the dose, but Van Eijk saved. Then Hazel found Philip Ball from the right, but Naumowicz saved well. Half-time: Mooroolbark 2-1 Collingwood City in a pulsating encounter at a packed Kennel.
On 65 minutes, McEvoy, who seems to have all the time in the world, played the ball down the left. It broke kindly for Klepac, who brought the ball down before shooting straight at Van Eijk. Four minutes later, a dangerous corner from Seaye almost found Brett Tronconi, but Van Eijk beat him to the ball.
Barkers responded on 76 minutes with a corner from Perrin. Tronconi leapt like a salmon but headed wide. Then Klepac went on a tremendous run down the left and crossed for Maxim Solovyev, but he was closely marked and lost out.
With nine minutes left, Barkers gave away a free kick on the right about 25 yards out – dangerous territory. However, the set-piece was overhit and Barkers breathed again. Collingwood put a packed Barkers defence under siege for the rest of the game, but Barkers would not be denied. Full-time: Mooroolbark 2-1 Collingwood City.
This was magnificent stuff from Barkers, who just do not lie down. Collingwood showed their quality, but it wasn’t enough against the undiluted will and belief of the home side. Another brick was constructed in the Esther Park fortress – neither men nor women have lost a league game for over a year.
With three games remaining, the top three reads Collingwood 41 points, Barkers 37, Peninsula Strikers 35. Intriguingly, Collingwood faces Peninsula next week. Thus Barkers, having won six in a row, have a live chance of finishing in the top two and winning promotion to State 1.
Next is a Saturday night away game at ninth-placed Heatherton United.