Wollongong United wrote the name on the Illawarra Premier League grand final trophy by clinching a 1-0 victory over league champions Woonona at Ian McLennan Park on Sunday.

In a tight and tense affair, the only moment separating the two sides was Hikaru Kawasakiya’s free-kick on the stroke of half time.

While Woonona struggled to create chances throughout the match they came close to taking the lead only three minutes in when Tomohiro Ishii hit a swirling free-kick from 30 metres out that was destined to float into the top right corner only for Jordan Nikolovski in the United goal to tip the ball over the crossbar.

United’s first good opportunity would come in the 15th minute when Woonona struggled to clear the ball out of danger which led to Mason Versi picking up the ball inside the penalty area only for his attempted chip over Jair Fernandez to drift wide of the far post.

It was not until the final five minutes of the half that another good chance arose, this time through a Wollongong United short corner routine which resulted in Kawasakiya being played through towards the by-line before he cut the ball back to Ben Brooks waiting eagerly on the edge of the six-yard box, who failed to capitalise on the opportunity, heading the ball over the crossbar.

Kawasakiya was the focus of United’s attack once more in first-half stoppage time, when he went on a mazy run towards goal only to be brought down by Woonona captain Tyler Bromham-Fuller on the edge of the area. Bromham-Fuller saw yellow for his offence as Kawasakiya stepped up to take the free-kick he had won. Striking it with the inside of his right foot, the Japanese found the bottom right corner with the shot just out of reach of Sharks goalkeeper Jair Fernandez.

In the second period, Fernandez was the star of the show as his team continued to turn over the ball as they launched forward in search of a goal, leaving the Sharks defence exposed on multiple occasions.

The most notable showing of his ability was on the hour mark when Seiji Kawakami played Jeremy Flanagan through on goal with only Fernandez to beat. The goalkeeper was up to the task, pulling off an incredible reflex save before making another block of equal measure off Versi’s follow up.

In the final 30 minutes, Woonona continued to push for an equaliser to keep their fairytale season alive, however, the goal didn’t come as United’s defence stood strong until referee Andrew Naylor blew time on the Premier League season after three minutes of added-on time.

In the midst of United’s celebrations, their coach Oliver Vrtkovski felt that the match played out as he expected, and while delighted with his side’s success, acknowledged the amazing season of their grand final opponents.

“It was always going to be a close encounter with Woonona, they’re an absolutely quality side,” Vrtkovski explained.

“It was always going to be a 1-0 game, and fortunately for us, we got the goal.

While thrilled to have won, the grand final victory did not completely heal the wounds of losing the league to the Sharks. [The league] is what we wanted, this is a consolation for not coming first and being pipped by a goal but you can’t take anything away from Woonona, they came first and they were the best team all season.”

For Woonona, despite the grand final loss, 2020 will go down as arguably the best in their 131-year history with the side winning their first Premier League title and making their maiden Premier League grand final appearance.

Full interview with Oliver Vrtkovski: bit.ly/2HScjOu

Wollongong United: 1 (Kawasakiya 45+1’)

Woonona: 0

Scott Chipperfield Medal: Billy Tsovolos

Wollongong United: 60. NIKOLOVSKI Jordan, 19. BROOKS Ben, 3. DIAS Andre, 11. KAWASAKIYA Hikaru, 26. KAWAKAMI Seiji, 42. LAZAREVSKI Danny, 44. MCLAREN Zac, 41. THOMAS Sean, 20. TSOVOLOS Billy, 10. VERSI Mason, 14. FLANAGAN Jeremy

Substitutes: 7. MENDES Michael (KAWASAKIYA), 30. SEKUTKOSKI Klime (VERSI), 17. TERZIC Dinko, 23. YAMADA Mitsuo (FLANAGAN), 62. BEDELOVSKI Zak

Woonona: 1. FERNANDEZ Jair, 2. LOPEZ Jeremy, 3. BESGROVE Cameron, 4. WILLIAMS Taro Regan, 5. ISHII Tomohiro, 6. TOOHEY Luke, 7. MELLOR Jai, 8. BROMHAM-FULLER Tyler, 9. FRENCH Jesse, 10. MCCOSKER Luke, 11. GAUDIOSI Robbie

Substitutes: 12. BURKE Thomas (GAUDIOSI), 13. GREW Damien (MELLOR), 14. MCCALL Eden (FRENCH), 15. SMITH Cooper 20. CHURCHWARD Jack

Date: 1 November 2020

Venue: Ian McLennan Park

Referee: Andrew Naylor

Assistant Referees: Nick Ryan and Brodie Merchant

Fourth Official: Bobby Mazevski

Report by Nic Wilson, on Twitter @_nicwilson

Photo by Pedro Garcia

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