Melbourne Knights beat winless Eastern Pride with an added-time Andy Vargas thunderbolt at Knights Stadium in hot and windy conditions on Sunday, once again taking pressure off coach Vlado Vanis who was said to be ready to quit the club were a victory against the NSL's bottom team not forthcoming.
Pride took the lead shortly after the break when Paul Magdic turned the ball into his own net under pressure from Daniel Watkins, but Knights had instantly restored the balance when Adrian Cervinski headed in at the back-post from a corner with no defender otherwise to occupy his attentions.
Following Vargas' 25 metre shot which crashed into the net despite the despairing dive of Pride keeper Eugene Galekovic, Vanis played down threat to quit as mere media speculation.
"I can't quit just like that," said Vanis after the game. "If I'm going to quit, I'd call a meeting of the Board, and we'd make a decision together. But I believe in these boys, and I'm definitely not going to quit."
The win, combined with results elsewhere that round, ensured Knights climbed to a position where a top six spot is in sight. Vanis believes there are still reserves upon which Knights can draw which will make them a Finals threat.
"We can improve at a minimum sixty or seventy percent," Vanis said. Upon viewing of the team's performance against Pride, that assessment was highly believable, and will be entirely necessary.
It would have been remarkable had anyone forecast that the game would have sprung to life in the way it did, following a dire and staccato first half where neither side seemed likely to control the game, and where a fluent passage of play would have warranted applause.
Perhaps it was the strong wind that made for such disjointed football. Pride had the benefit of it for the first half, but failed to take decisive advantage, although they had the better of the game.
Marcus Stergiopoulos made his return to a Gippsland side, following a successful stint with Carlton, then a less memorable one with Football Kingz in his native New Zealand. His reading of the game and his ability to direct his defence was greatly appreciated by Pride coach Jeff Hopkins.
"I was very pleased with Stergiopoulos' game. He marshalled (the defence) very well, and he looked comfortable on the ball."
However, Stergiopoulos' Carlton team-mates - Mike Conroy and Con Anthopoulos - will not feature in future Pride line-ups as Hopkins indicated he and Pride had lost interest in the Carlton pair, both of whom had been offered by the impecunious Carlton mid-week. "They won't be coming," he said. "We've been messed around for too long for those two players, and as a matter of principle now, they won't be coming to the club."
Pride held a slight edge at half-time, and it was just reward for their effort that they took the lead six minutes into the second half, although the means of their lead was unorthodox.
Michael Katz had been having a serviceable game wide on Pride's right, and this time he swept a low cross into the penalty-area where the hard-working Watkins looked threatening. Knights' goalkeeper Lupce Acevski and Magdic failed to delegate the defensive responsibility either way, and then both reacted when it was past time for the decision. All Magdic could do was steer his touch into his own net.
Knights was to level just three minutes later, but Magdic's day went from bad to worse as Vanis dragged him within four.
"I felt that Magdic had a good (first half), but after he scored the own goal, he then gave away a silly free-kick, and I was worried he may (go on to do) something more stupid, so I took him off," said Vanis.
Vanis at least had the comfort of seeing the equaliser before his game ended.
After a swift break, Knights had earnt a corner when that seemed poor reward. Ante Deak - returning to Knights Stadium as a visitor after previously playing from the home team dressing rooms - got the better of Alex Kiratzoglou when Kiratzoglou had manoeuvred himself into a fine shooting position, but had taken overly long.
As the corner was swung in, it curled in the wind, and fell to the unguarded back post where only Cervinski stood, gleefully accepting the chance.
The speed of the reply gave renewed hope to Knights. Joel Porter and Cervinski both had chances to wrap up the game for the Knights, before Vargas' winner at the death.
Young Pride midfielder John Hutchison must have rued that moment more than most. From an almost identical position at the other end, and just minutes before, his drive beat Acevski, but had cannoned off the post.
Pride coach Jeff Hopkins was naturally disappointed at taking nothing from the match: "I thought we played reasonably well today. We were solid without being spectacular, and closed Knights down very well. I'm again disappointed we gave away another goal from a set-piece. It was just slack marking - a lack of concentration."