Prospect United defeated South Coast Flame 3-2 in stunning style thanks to a hattrick from Luka Zepina to remain unbeaten to begin their campaign.
The game began evenly with both sides looking to feel each other out as neither goalkeeper was troubled in the opening ten minutes
South Coast Flame had the first chance of the match with a clever ball to the back post seeing a cutback find Louis Miller-Tamsitt, with Prospect’s defence getting a foot in just in time to stifle the shot.
David Muller from Prospect showed his range of passing early on from the centre of a back three, looking to hit raking passes with his left foot to Bradley Dollin as a left-wing back running in behind on a number of occasions within the opening twenty minutes.
South Coast Flame continued to threated Prospect’s defence, as they broke their opponents’ high defensive line from deep though Fabian Iacovelli’s pace, with Jack Balmforth failing to make strong contact with a volley from just in the box from another cross.
The advanced positioning of Prospect’s wingbacks pressured the away side’s back four, as they were a consistently free outlet in build-up considering the numerical advantage to South Coast Flame’s press, and the passing angles opened considering their width.
South Coast Flame were presented with an opportunity to open the scoring from a close range freekick, but Balmforth’s freekick sailed over the bar.
Prospect started to work their way into more threatening positions with a couple of shots within a short spell, but neither their nor South Coast Flame’s goalkeeper was required to make a save within the opening half an hour.
South Coast Flame again troubled with a shot from the edge of the box, but Prospect United managed to block the avenue to goal.
It seemed a target area with the away side looking to hit early crosses or cutbacks just in front of the ‘D’ to onrushing midfielders, but majority of the shots hadn’t been hit purely, and Prospect’s three central defenders, while not always able to clear the initial squad, were blocking well.
Cristian Gerado Levia Martinez had a good chance for the home side after being found free just outside the box, but he hesitated and took one touch too many,
Prospect were inches off opening the scoring from a corner, with a scramble seeing South Coast goalkeeper Luke Morgan called into action, making an important save for his side.
However, minutes later Prospect did open the scoring through Luka Zepina to send Prospect with the advantage just before halftime.
The Prospect man found space and dummied a shot with his right foot before finishing coolly with his left, through the legs of the goalkeeper.
Zepina almost had a quickfire brace a few minutes later, as he raced in behind down the left flank and beat his man with another clever feint.
He advanced in on goal but couldn’t get enough bend on the shot as he looked to find the bottom right corner, with Morgan smothering the ball to make a good save.
Moments later, Zepina attempted a similar style of shot and this time converted clinically, making it two goals from himself and tow for his side going into the sheds at halftime.
A minute after, Prospect looked to add a third with a run in behind, but Morgan made a smart decision to advance and got to the ball just before the forward.
South Coast Flame came out a brighter side in the second half and halved the deficit within the opening five of the second half through a fantastic curling strike from Balmforth.
The winger peeled off to offer for a cutback and curled a peach of a strike into the side netting from outside the opposite post to give his side an in-road back into the match.
The Wollongong based side looked to ride off the momentum from their first goal, but Prospect did well to stifle their opponents, riding the wave well to prevent an equaliser.
South Coast went close with a cleanly struck volley off a corner from inside the box, but Cody Waller dragged his shot narrowly wide of the near post.
The away side then found an equaliser in dramatic style, with a low cross finding Iacovelli who steered home a tap in at the far post.
South Coast looked to be creating strong momentum, gaining a corner a minute later as they looked to impose themselves on their opponents to go ahead and gain their first victory of the League Three Men’s season.
Praneet Singh went close for Prospect off a snapshot towards the far post, dragging an impressive shot on the half turn narrowly wide.
South Coast almost capitalised on a stray pass, taking three shots in succession within the phase of play to follow, with the first saved, the second blocked and the third skied.
The energy picked up with both sides pushing for a goal to take them ahead, as the match became an intense affair.
Both sides looked to a more direct route to take the lead, with both sides’ defences coping strongly against the heavier array of long passes in behind.
But in the dying stages of the match, as the match looked to finish with a point apiece, Zepina worked his magic once more, getting his third of the match, with the final the best of the lot.
Zepina picked up the ball on the right and twisted and turned with feints, eventually coming inside onto his left foot.
The hattrick hero wrapped his left foot around the ball and curled a magnificent strike past Morgan to secure a crucial three points for Prospect United.
South Coast Flame immediately looked to retaliate with a goal of their own to level the scores but couldn’t gain a late opportunity to take a point from the match.
Prospect coach Darren Camilleri was happy with the three points, particularly after a midweek Australia Cup game meant his squad went into the match more tired than usual.
“We found it tough today – we had an Australia Cup game Thursday night which the majority of our guys played (Prospect defeated Hawkesbury City 5-1) and found it hard to match with their enthusiasm today,” he said.
“They were on top for probably the first fifteen/twenty minutes and then after the first goal we eased down and played a little better. We got the second one which was good, and their goalkeeper pulled off a few good saves. In the second half they came out with a lot of intensity and enthusiasm and got two goals and it was game on.
“When you have a guy like Luka Zepina on our team, you just have to get him in good situations, and he’ll tuck the ball away.”
In the earlier fixture, Flame beat Prospect 3-1. Sam Alston scored a brace in the first half to put Flame two goals up before Prospect pulled a goal back midway through the second half. A well worked move saw a perfectly executed play sealed with a tap in by Jayden Nielson who capped off a strong win. The only sour point being an injury late in the match to goalkeeper Nicholas Armand.
South Coast Flame now take on Camden Tigers this coming weekend.