Avondale have suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to Heidelberg United at Avenger Park on Saturday, handing over the initiative in the title race.
A win would have seen the Avengers clinch the NPL Victoria title while a draw would have kept them in the box seat, however a 94th-minute goal from Heidelberg’s Sean Ellis snatched victory for the visitors and elevated them to title frontrunners.
The loss sees Heidelberg jump ahead of the Avengers into first place on the NPL table, the first time Avondale have not been in top spot since round three.
With one round left to play Avondale – now two points behind United – will have to win their match against Bentleigh and hope Heidelberg either lose or draw in their clash against South Melbourne in order to win the title.
With one round left, Avondale sit two points behind Heidelberg. The Avengers will have to win their final match against Bentleigh and hope the ‘Bergers either lose or draw in their clash with South Melbourne in order to win the title.
With everything to play for on Saturday, Avondale started the better of the two teams and were rewarded for their efforts when Yitay Towns gave his side the lead with a neat strike in the 10th minute.
But the home side’s lead did not last long. Less than five minutes later Heidelberg were level when a cross deflected in off a helpless Brandon Lundy after keeper Chris Oldfield failed to clear the ball away.
United then took the lead from the penalty spot, Adrian Zahra tucked home his spot kick after defender Matthew Reid was penalised for a push on a Heidelberg player.
Trailing at the break, Avondale knew it would take something special to bring them level and it was Jonatan Germano who provided it.
The Argentinian unleashed a spectacular curling effort that sailed beautifully past a diving Brendan White and brought the Avengers level early into the second half.
A draw would have favoured Avondale, forcing Heidelberg to go on the attack in search of a winner. But that exuberance almost brought the visitors undone with Avondale creating a golden opportunity on the counter attack.
Stefan Valentini intercepted a sloppy back pass before skipping past the last defender to put himself through on goal. But while he managed to evade the Heidelberg players he couldn’t avoid Yusuf Ahmed, with the pair bumping into each other as they chased down the ball.
Valentini managed to recover and was still able to maintain possession as he sprinted in on goal, but the hesitation allowed a defender to catch up and put pressure on him as he fired a low shot that was incredibly well saved by White.
The moment was Avondale’s best chance to take the lead and a goal would have almost certainly clinched the title.
If the Avondale fans were feeling deflated after the missed chance to take the lead, they were soon left feeling utterly devastated when Heidelberg’s Ellis broke Avenger hearts deep in stoppage time.
Avondale failed to clear what looked to be a harmless header into the box with the ball falling to Ellis who calmly tapped a shot past an onrushing Oldfield.
The 94th-minute goal left Avondale almost no time to respond, with Heidelberg holding on to claim the win and move into first position with one round left to play.
Heidelberg sit two points clear of Avondale heading into the last round. United will face South Melbourne at Lakeside Stadium while the Avengers will pay Bentleigh Greens at Kingston Heath Reserve, with both games kicking off at 3:00pm on Sunday.
Avondale will need to win and hope Heidelberg either lose or draw in order to claim the title.