North Geelong won the first Century 21 Geelong Community Shield at Stead Park yesterday by five goals to one against a plucky Geelong Rangers team.
In perfect conditions for football, North and Rangers battled out a first half of high quality but eventually North’s superiority became evident after Rangers’ player-coach was sent off.
Both teams were at full strength, with Troy Hardy leading the Rangers’ attack and North being led by Tom Gavran.
In early exchanges, Scott Davison’s corner kick over keeper Saric was headed back into the danger area by David Valys, but in an instant North broke through midfield and Tom Gavran hit a shot straight at Rangers’ keeper Peter Duque.
North broke the deadlock in fifteen minutes when Ante Deak went on a solo run through the inside-left channel and finished with a low shot under Duque.
North’s talented midfield of Grgo Saric, Mijo Trupkovic and Deak, all of whom have national league experience, were able to take control of the game for extended periods, forcing Rangers to play a counter-attacking role.
After 32 minutes one of these ripostes led to Darren McCallum being bundled over in the box by Robert Hibbins which earned the North defender a yellow card and his side conceded a penalty-kick expertly converted by Troy Hardy.
Rangers were still celebrating when North went ahead again after big Tony Saric powered through ahead of the defence to score.
The first half ended in controversy when an incident occurred on the edge of the Rangers’ penalty area involving North’s Ante Deak and Rangers’ Stuart Begg.
Rangers player-coach Scott Davison intervened and received his second caution from referee Stan Tasic, which meant that the Dark Blues were reduced to ten men for the second half.
The tackles continued to fly in and David Valys of Rangers and Mijo Trupkovic of North were next into the referee’s book, but Trupkovic showed his skill with a run through midfield and a shot which just cleared the bar.
Then came the goal of the tournament when young Robert Hibbins popped up on the right and made amends for his penalty error with a shot from 25 metres which flew past an astonished Peter Duque.
Tom Gavran then converted a cross from the left for North’s fourth goal to put the match out of Rangers’ reach.
Ante Deak found Gavran with another cross which the little striker headed home for North’s fifth goal after 72 minutes.
From then on the heat went out of the game and North showed that it intends to continue its domination of the new tournament as it did the Geelong Advertiser Cup which it has replaced.
In the third place match, Geelong settled the issue against Bell Park inside the first three minutes when Community Shield top scorer Robert Georgievski grabbed two goals in the first two attacks. The first was a back-header from a Cameron Stankovski through ball, the second a clean strike from a cross from the right.
Teenager Sivaseshan Kanapathy had Park’s best chance in the first half but the ball would not sit for him in front of goal and he skied the effort over the bar.
North Geelong coach, Robbie Krajacik, and his Rangers’ counterpart Scott Davison agreed the first half had been a highly competitive affair.
‘Rangers came out strongly and closed us down early on and made it hard for us, and the longer the game went on their intensity increased. But there was always a risk that it would lead to yellow cards as it did,’ Krajacic said.
‘We did not play as well as we did in some of the earlier games in the tournament, but we kept going and got the result we wanted.’
‘We gave a number of the youngsters a run in the final. Robert Hibbins scored a great goal to make up for his penalty kick.’
‘We told him at half time that Troy Hardy would continue to play up front so he could push forward into midfield and take his chances and that is what he did.’
The North coach was reluctant to concede that the sending off of Davison was the critical point in the game, but the Rangers man was certain that it was.
‘We were sluggish at the start,’ he said, ‘We took time to settle.’ ‘North kept at us but we stood up to the pressure and got the penalty. But then we lost concentration after our goal. That is something we must work on through the season.’
As to the episode which led to his dismissal, Davison said ‘I only tried to pull a North player away from a Rangers player who was on the ground and appeared to have been kicked.’
He agreed that Rangers had its best spell of the match in the early part of the second half, but that the team eventually conceded the decisive goals in a spell midway through the period.