Helensburgh Thistle have overcome a valiant Unanderra Hearts on pouring Saturday afternoon at Ian McLennan Park to earn their spot in the grand final with a 3-2 victory after extra time.
The Hearts went in front twice in the match, but the Thistle pegged them back quickly on both occasions before Charlie Jones passed home the winner early in the first period of extra time.
Unanderra’s last encounter with Helensburgh saw the side down three goals in the first 10 minutes. However, this time around it was the Hearts who got off to a swift start. Mark Picciolini bending a freekick from the edge of the box into the top left corner three minutes in. The striker has been in superb form since his return to the team with four goals in his past three games. Picciolini could’ve had another two minutes later; however, he directed his volley from the middle of the box straight at Jordan Paull in the Thistle goal.
Despite the Hearts’ purposeful start to the game, it didn’t take long for Helensburgh to equalise. Liam Unicomb’s ball from the right in the 11th minute finding Brad Watts in the centre of the box who directed his shot into the bottom left corner. Unanderra went close to an instant response with Christian Plakias poking an effort just wide of the left post from inside the box a couple of minutes later.
The Thistle nearly snatched a lead a quarter of an hour in with Kade Kinsella making space in the right of the box and firing goalwards. Unanderra goalkeeper Blake Coad was able to block the effort with his feet before it spun up and away. Coad was called into action again midway through the half as Blake Currey’s ball over the top into the right channel for Rob Watson found the fullback who prodded goalwards, but Coad held on.
Unanderra had a chance to go into the break in front with only two of minutes to play. Picciolini finding space on the edge of the box and seeing his effort deflect up and over the bar. The teams went into the break level with an early goal either way.
Helensburgh picked up the pace in the second half with Unicomb and Kinsella both going close inside seven minutes. The Thistle continued to press on in pursuit of a go-ahead goal as Brad Watts wriggled his way down the left in the 59th minute before driving the ball across from the byline. The cross fell at the back post to Unicomb, who mis-hit his volley well clear of the goal.
Ben Watts fired a powerful long shot at Coad just after the hour mark with the ‘keeper surviving a scare as the ball spun out of his hands onto his head before he got a hold of it. Although the league champions had begun the second half well, Unanderra struck the woodwork in the 66th minute. Picciolini shifting the ball onto his left foot outside the box and firing an effort off the right post. The Hearts didn’t have to wait long for their goal though, hitting the front for the second time in the match a minute later. A ball rolled into the box from the right found Plakias who sent a first-time shot past Paull and into the net.
However, Helensburgh responded quickly again restoring parity four minutes after Unanderra’s goal. Vaughan Patterson taking on a first-time long-range curler that nestled in the right side of the net. Brad Watts looked to push the Thistle into the lead in the 74th minute running into the left of the box but skewing his shot just wide of the near post.
The Hearts finished the second half strongly with a few chances to retake the lead. Picciolini saw a couple of efforts fly wide in the final 10 minutes. However, deep into injury time, a scramble in the Thistle box dropped to late substitute Byron Chaplain on the right who shovelled a golden chance over the bar.
The game would require extra time to decide a winner and a place in the grand final for either side. Helensburgh took the lead just three minutes into extra time with Charlie Jones – who had been shifted to fullback for the latter part of the game popping up in the box to convert Ben Watts’ right-sided cross. The Thistle carried on from here with only a series of crucial Coad saves keeping Unanderra in the match.
Picciolini would have one last chance in the 109th minute for the Hearts receiving the ball in the right of the box and forcing Paull to tip the consequent shot around the right post. Helensburgh were able to repel Unanderra’s attacking impetus for the final portion of the game with some diligent defending and make it through to the grand final.
With an undefeated league championship already to their name, a victory in the grand final would top off what has been an incredible season for the Thistle.
However, this result for Unanderra represents a stark improvement from the 8-3 drubbing the side suffered against Helensburgh only two games earlier. They still have a shot at making the grand final but will need to win against University next week in the preliminary final.
Helensburgh Thistle 3 (Brad Watts 11’, Vaughan Patterson 71’, Charlie Jones 93’)
Unanderra Hearts 2 (Mark Picciolini 3’, Christian Plakias 67’)
Helensburgh Thistle: 1. PAULL Jordan, 2. WATSON Rob, 6. CURREY Blake, 4. HOPE Ryan, 5. BENHAM Jarrod, 8. PATTERSON Vaughan, 7. UNICOMB Liam, 13. JONES Charlie, 9. KINSELLA Kade, 10. WATTS Brad, 14. WATTS Ben
Substitutes: 11. VAN ZYL Luke (Brad WATTS 98’), 12. MUCCI Joel (CURREY 87’), 3. TURRALL Peter (WATSON 46’)
Yellow Cards: Vaughan Patterson 31’, Rob Watson 41’
Red Cards: Nil
Unanderra Hearts: 20. COAD Blake, 5. DEBROT Luke, 3. BELSITO Nathan, 2. KYRIAKOUDES Peter, 6. DEL BANCO Robert, 12. MERXHUSHI Valentino, 7. PLAKIAS Christian, 13. PICCIOLINI Mark, 10. NAGATSUKA Tatsuki, 17. MAGILL Dominic, 8. LIDDLE Jonathon
Substitutes: 14. MARTIN Lachlan (MAGILL 102’), 9. PRENTOSKI Alexandar (PLAKIAS 114’), 4. CHAPLAIN Byron (LIDDLE 86’), 23. MOREIRA Bradley
Yellow Cards: Mark Picciolini 60’, Jonathon Liddle 60’, Valentino Merxhushi 78’, Peter Kyriakoudes 90+4’
Red Cards: Nil
Date: Saturday, 8 October 2022
Venue: Ian McLennan Park, Kembla Grange
Referee: Greg Reid
Assistant Referees: Brendon Fotheringham and Casey Flemming
Fourth Official: Steve Bozic
Report by Timothy Gibson, on Twitter @Timg123_
Photos courtesy of Graham Brown