By Peter Stephenson
Saturday was one of those crisp autumn days that were made for football as Esther Park hosted the Barkers soccer team (seventh) against Berwick City (sixth) in round seven of Men’s State 2 South-East.
It was all hands on deck at the Kennel, as the men’s reserves and seniors games were preceded by junior fixtures and the sponsors’ lunch, and followed by the first club function of the year – legends night. Barkers needed to bounce back from a 0-3 loss at Peninsula Strikers, while Berwick had beaten Monbulk Rangers 7-0 the previous week.
Berwick settled better in the early exchanges, but somewhat against the run of play on 15 minutes, Sean Perrin was pushed inside the penalty area and Barkers had a spot-kick. Geordie Scott hit the ball low past Kris McEvoy to open the scoring – 1-0 Barkers. This buoyed the hosts, and three minutes later Eddie Clark had possession near the byline on the left. He floated the ball to the far side of the goal but slightly over hit it and Berwick could breathe again.
On the half-hour, Berwick lost possession in their own half. Scott (in a precursor of what was to decide the game later) put an inviting through ball to Maxim Solovyev. He went on to score, but was offside, so no goal. Berwick were still well in the game, though, and on 33 minutes Paul McEvoy had a dangerous shot blocked by the Barkers defence. The game was played at a fast tempo and was becoming scrappy. The tackles were flying in and the yellow cards were being handed out like hors d’oeuvres at a sponsors’ function – at least five in the first half alone. Half time: Mooroolbark 1-0 Berwick City.
Three minutes into the second half, a Barkers defender seemed to be impeded and lost the ball. Surprisingly, the referee waved play on, and then the Berwick forward was brought down just outside the penalty area, giving the visitors a free-kick in a dangerous spot. The free-kick was driven through the defensive wall and Mark Naumowicz saved, but the ball came back out to Philip Hawkins, who scored from close range to make it 1-1.
Just before the hour, Scott broke forward for Barkers and found Solovyev on the left wing. He cut inside but was blocked and the ball went out for a Barkers corner, which came to nothing. Two minutes later, Berwick had their own corner on the left. This was sent to the far post and found a forward, but with the goal at his mercy, he shot wide.
Then came the deciding moment of the game. With 20 minutes left, Scott set off through the middle of the park, and put another beautiful through ball in for Solovyev to run onto. He had just enough time to pick his spot and hit a low shot past Kris McEvoy into the far corner of the net to restore Barkers’ lead at 2-1.
Predictably, the finish was frantic as Berwick tried everything to get back on terms. With eight minutes left, a Berwick forward was through on goal with only Naumowicz to beat. The Barkers’ stopper dived bravely at the forward’s feet to save – a fitting moment for a man breaking the Barkers record for a goalkeeper in his 89th appearance.
Barkers then almost hit Berwick on the counter as a slick move between Sam Klepac, Scott and Arash Sadeghi almost saw the latter’s shot palmed into his own net by Kris McEvoy. There were by now 12 players on yellow cards and, sure enough, one of them eventually turned red as the Berwick left winger received his marching orders in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Barkers held on in a nervy finish and ran out 2-1 winners.
Berwick have proven tricky opponents over the years, so points against them are always hard-earned. This was a good hard game from both sides, but maybe a little over-officiated with at least 12 cards being dished out. Barkers move to third pending Old Scotch’s result at North Caulfield. Next is another big challenge – a Friday night trip to second-placed Collingwood City.
In the earlier game, Jack Buglass netted from close range in the second minute for Barkers’ reserves. He doubled his tally on the half-hour when he was put in the clear by an opponent’s attempted clearance. Just after half-time, he lobbed the keeper for his hat-trick. Barkers always like to make it interesting, though, and Berwick hit back in the 62nd and 85th minutes, but Barkers held on in a tight finish for their first win of the season. Full-time: Mooroolbark 3-2 Berwick City.