Rockingham City’s coronation as State League Division One champions was confirmed on Sunday after Gwelup Croatia played out an entertaining 2-2 draw away at Western Knights in their final game of the season.
In reality, Gwelup were never likely to pull off the 13-goal win they needed to overtake Rockingham at the top of the table.
And that is how it played out, with this draw ensuring Rockingham finished two points clear and gained promotion to the NPL WA next season, sending Subiaco down along with already relegated Joondalup United and Forrestfield United.
Following Rockingham’s 4-1 defeat of Fremantle on Saturday, Gwelup knew they were facing a mission impossible going into this “Croatian Derby”, especially as Western Knights were determined not to be on the end of a thrashing.
The result completed a season of so near, so far for Gwelup.
They were unbeaten for the first seven games and top of the league for most of the season, while they also reached the Belt Up State Cup Final only to lose 2-0 to Armadale. Their inability to sign off with a win on Sunday added to coach Taki Nicolaidis’ frustration.
“It’s disappointing to not come away with three points,” he said.
“When it’s a situation like that where it’s beyond normal practices, I think we wanted to go out there and finish on a high and come away with a win and we couldn’t do that.
“When you look back and reflect on our season as a whole there’s been a lot of positives but there’s definitely room for improvement.”
Gwelup attacked from the very beginning of the match as they fought to pull of the impossible result they needed to win the title.
And they took the lead in the 17th minute after captain James Sammut’s free kick found Bobby Wilson at the far post. The experienced centre back hit a first time cross back towards goal that found Cameron Yorke and he converted with a simple tap-in.
However Knights hit back two minutes later after Domenic Sardi pounced on a poor back pass to keeper Connor Campbell and finished into the empty net.
The home side were then given the opportunity to take the lead after striker Dean Hurley was tackled from behind in the box by Nelson Tshongo. Hurley took the penalty himself and fired it down the middle as Campbell dived left, giving the home side a 2-1 lead.
Gwelup looked frustrated by the fight shown by Knights and the 13-goal win never looked likely.
Brian Mashingaidze at least levelled for Gwelup in the 41st minute. A long ball from midfield found him on the right wing and he cut in to the box then fired a curling shot into the top corner.
The second half lacked the intensity of the first and both sides struggled to create many chances.
Gwelup came close to finding a winner in the 74th minute as Mashingaidze broke quickly on the counter but Sam Stone made a great save to keep out his shot.
The draw for Western Knights meant they finished the season in fourth place after winning the title in 2017.
Western Knights 2 (Sardi 19min, Hurley 32 pen)
Gwelup Croatia (Yorke 17, Mashingaidze 41)
Sunday, September 16
Referee: S Skinnol
Assistant referees: A Liechti, M Barrington
Western Knights: 1. Sam STONE, 3. Vinnie WIKTORA, 4. Domenic SARDI, 5. Graham TOUGH, 6. Jonty TURNER (2. Chris VINSON 70), 7. Andy CARTWRIGHT, 8. Ryan SARDI, 9. Dean HURLEY, 10. Brian PATTERSON (12. Josh CORTEZ 26 (19. Yulius LOKO 72)), 11. Jack RYCROTT, 18. Dom DE FELICE
Substitutes not used: 16. DAVID CLARKE, 22. Lewis COOK
Yellow cards: Wiktora 27, Hurley 90+1, Cartwright 90+3
Red cards: Nil
Gwelup Croatia: 1. Connor CAMPBELL, 2. Michael PUGLIESE (16. Riley STEPHENSON 62), 4. Cameron YORKE, 5. Bobby WILSON, 6. Brody MARTIN (17. Sebastian MUNOZ 70), 7. James SAMMUT, 11. Isaac KOOMSON, 12. Benny KOUAKOU (77. Domenic MANN 80), 28. Kwangmook LIM, 41. Nelson TSHONGO, 50. Brian MASHINGAIDZE
Substitutes not used: 14. Stephen O’LEARY, 24. Kyle MURRARY
Yellow cards: Lim 10, Yorke 30
Red cards: Nil