The 1995/96 A-league grandfinal sees Marconi-Fairfield and the Melbourne Knights battle it out for the championship title. These sides finished first and second on the table respectively this season and the playoffs only confirmed their status amongst this year's crop of teams.
The Knights are a regular fixture in recent grand finals but only recently managed to win one, beating Adelaide City to become champions last season. Over the past season the teams have met 3 times as well as their two-legged tie early in the playoffs. The results were (home team listed first):
Melbourne Knights 2 - Marconi-Fairfield 0
Marconi-Fairfield 0 - Melbourne Knights 0
Melbourne Knights 0 - Marconi-Fairfield 0
Melbourne Knights 1 - Marconi-Fairfield 0
Marconi-Fairfield 2 - Melbourne Knights 2
So on the surface it appears that Melbourne have the advantage over Marconi, not having lost a match to the Sydneysiders all season. However the Olympics have evened the score somewhat in that the Australian squad currently in Canada attempting to become the 16th team into the Olympics has in it 3 key Knights players, and only 1 player from Marconi. Joe Spiteri, Danny Tiatto and most crucially goalkeeper Frank Juric are all missing from the Knights lineup, whereas only Luke Casserly is away from the Marconi squad. Sadly for Marconi top striker Francis Awaritefe was ruled out on the day of the match with injury causing a reshuffle in the Marconi lineup.
MK : Knezevic, D Cervinski, Z Markovski, Lapsansky, Kovacevic (Buljubasic 45), Simunic, A Cervinski (YC 74), DeAmicis (YC 48), T Pondeljak (J Bacak 71), Marth, J Markovski (Nastevski 85) MF : Catlin, Renaud, Hristodoulou, Zoric, Souris (YC 24), Bingley, Longo, Harper (YC 65), Maloney, Stanton, van Egmond (Angelucci 65) Referee : Eddie Lennie Crowd : 14,256
The match kicked off at 3pm at Olympic Park in Melbourne under good conditions, the only concern being a slightly bumpy pitch. Marconi had the early running with Vlado Zoric managing to keep Andrew Marth quiet and Brendan Renaud doing likewise to the extremely promising youngster Tomislav Pondeljak. This still left a potent attack including Adrian Cervinski and John Markovski. While the bulk of posession and field position went the way of the Knights Marconi was no less productive in terms of play with Andrew Harper and Matthew Bingley keeping the Knights defence busy. However the young goalkeeper was not seriously threatened although he did look fragile early in the match in the manner he dealt with crosses. One punch-out landing at the feet of Eric Hristodoulou just outside the penalty area was returned with a viciously dipping shot which dipped a little too late.
Marconi's most promising attacks were usually sniffed out by Joe Simunic in particular before the Knights goal was threatened although on at least one occasion the bumpy surface caused Matthew Bingley to trip when Marconi were looking like opening the scoring. At the other end Souris and Longo were doing an equally good job of policing the Marconi goal. The Knights best chance came when a dribble past the defenders by John Markovski saw a cross fired across the goal but no Knights in the centre to take advantage of this.
So the half ended at 0-0 with little between the sides though the Knights had demonstrated some degree of superiority. When the sides returned only one change was made to the lineup with the ineffectual Ante Kovacevic coming off for Vinko Buljubasic.
Whatever the Knights were told at half time seemed to have quite an effect as they managed to string together some fine moves in an attempt to break the deadlock. Early in the second half David Cervinski fed a beautiful ball through to Marth just before Catlin could clean up the ball but Marth wastefully put the shot beyond the post from barely 3 metres out.
While the chances were well constructed the first goal was somewhat scrappy. The ball went wide to the substitute Buljubasic who then fed the ball back into the middle which took a deflection off a defender. Andrew Marth stretched out to get a foot to the ball which was enough to put Catlin off and made him fumble the ball. Marth who was lying on the ground poked the ball in with his left foot to score the opening goal after 58 minutes.
It didn't take long for the rest of the Knights to try their luck and an intelligent lob was cleaned up by Catlin moments later before Marconi even had a change to regroup. David Cervinski and Tom Pondeljak both made almost length of the pitch runs before Marconi managed to get a free kick from in front and just outside the penalty area. The shot was taken by Brad Maloney and the crowd cheered mockingly when the ball went over the 6 man wall and kept right on going up, up and up.
There was nothing for it but to effect a change and Marconi coach Manfred Schaefer hoped that the substitution of Gary van Egmond for John Angelucci whould reap similar rewards as the change made by his counterpart, Ian Dobson, at halftime. By this time the Knights attackers Markovski and Pondeljak were showing signs of strain and were clearly not playing at full strength. Dobson decided to remove Pondeljak, who seemed to be cramping up, in favour of Joe Bacak. Sure enough there was no more than 5 minutes passed when the speedy Joe Bacak crossed the ball after a header on from a throw in, the goal did not eventuate as the free Cervinski wasn't tall enough to capitalise. However the ensuing play did not leave the Marconi half and eventually a corner was won and was taken by Lapsansky. An attempted shot from Bacak was partially blocked and the ball ran wide to the right of the Marconi goal where Adrian Cervinski was present to tuck the ball into the net for goal number 2.
Marconi kept it interesting when they received a corner themsleves only shortly afterwards. The corner was taken and landed neatly on Andrew Harper's head and Wilson Knezevic had left his line leaving only a man at the post who could do no more than head the ball into the roof of the net. So back to 2-1 and Marconi showing that perhaps the game was still within reach with about 12 minutes remaining.
Chances were made by both Marconi and Melbourne in the last 10 minutes with Angelucci and Cervinski having the better chances for their respective teams but in the end the final whistle best both teams to any further scoring and with the whistle came the rapturous celebrations of the Knights fans who flooded the pitch in enthusiastic but good-natured celebrations. The match presentations were delayed somewhat but went ahead eventually and Andrew Marth was voted player of the match.
Melbourne Knights 2 - Marconi-Fairfield 1 (Andrew Marth 58) (Andrew Harper 78) (Adrian Cervinski 74)