Bentleigh Greens pulled off a dramatic comeback to see off the challenge of Adelaide City in extra time and book themselves a semi final berth in the inaugural FFA Cup in an incident packed quarter final at Kingston Heath Soccer Complex on Wednesday night.
Adelaide looked to be heading towards the last four after Alex Rideout’s goal early in the second half, but Greens skipper Wayne Wallace lifted his team off the canvas and salvaged extra time when he levelled with an 88th minute header.
And Bentleigh winger Jamie De Abreu ensured it was a night of joy for the Greens and misery for the South Australians when he struck the winner in the 103rd minute after cutting inside, creating space and firing past City goalkeeper Ryan Veitch.
It was a lively contest in front of a big – for the hosts – crowd of almost 2000 as both Bentleigh and Adelaide fashioned chances which on other nights might have hit the target.
The fans got full value for turning up on a midweek night, and they can now dream of even bigger things with a home semi final tie against A-League opposition. Adelaide United and Central Coast have already qualified for the last four, while Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory were due to kick off in WA after this game finished.
Adelaide’s pacy teenager Thomas Love accelerated towards goal in the opening minutes and looked threatening early, while City’s burly striker Anthony Costa made space well for himself by beating two defenders before firing over as the visitors made a positive start
Former Melbourne Victory man Luke Pilkington then went close for the hosts with a header from a Christian Cavallo corner as Bentleigh began to threaten.
Costa then tried his luck from an acute angle while at the other end Liam McCormiick shot when he might have been better employed cutting the ball back to one of his team-mates.
It was an entertaining, end to end affair with neither side able to stamp their authority over the other in the opening period.
Rideout got free down the right for City but no-one could get on to his cross, while Nick Budin shot wide for the visitors.
Bentleigh responded with a fine move involving Wallace and Luke O’Dea (who as a youth player was on the books of both Melbourne Victory and City) who set up De Abreu for a shot which was blocked on the line by City’s Paul Blefari.
City broke the deadlock shortly after the restart with a well worked move after skipper Matthew Halliday fed the ball forward to Costa. The striker then played in Shannon Day, wide on the left. His cross was met by Rideout, whose run left him unmarked and able to finish from close range.
Greens almost got the chance to level straight after the restart when De Abreu broke down the right but no-one could get on to his cross in front of the Adelaide goal.
The visitors looked the stronger of the teams, both of whom have had a difficult preparation because their respective National Premier Leagues finished weeks ago. City almost doubled their advantage in the 53rd minute when Joel Allwright unleashed a well struck drive which Greens goalkeeper Alastair Bray did well to get down low to and keep out.
McCormick blazed over more in hope than confidence as the clock ticked past the hour mark, De Abreu’s shot was then blocked and youngster Luke Gallo came agonisingly close to levelling with a long range effort that hit the bar. De Abreu then squandered a gilt edged chance to equalise when his shot tricked agonisingly past the far post. It looked costly _ until Wallace’s last gasp intervention.
With both sides lacking match practice tiredness became a major issue in extra time. Cavallo almost put the hosts in front with a wonderful free kick which beat the wall but crashed off the crossbar.
Halliday had the ball in the net for Adelaide but the effort was ruled out for offside. Both teams went at each other hammer and tongs and it seemed either a mistake or a moment of inspiration would decide the contest. De Abreu’s drive was enough to make the crucial difference, and Bentleigh can continue to dream of Cup glory.