Wangaratta has reignited its chances of claiming the league title following a gutsy 3-2 win against Melrose at South Wangaratta Reserve on Sunday.
The Devils had a 2-0 lead at the break thanks to a first-half brace from import Julian Gaona.
He made it a hat trick in the 65th minute, but it wasn’t enough to kill off Melrose.
The men in purple responded a minute later with a penalty for handball in the box which was blasted home by Adam Waters.
Josh Corbett made it 3-2 when he found the top left corner after some brilliant lead-up play from his coach Kade Rixon.
Wangaratta resorted to moving everyone except Gaona behind the ball, and there was no shortage of tension in the dying stages as the Devils survived to move within a win of top spot.
Wangaratta coach Mario Antonello was thrilled to come away with victory.
“They probably deserved one (point) in all honesty, we probably just got them on a good week with the outs they had,” Antonello said.
“I thought Kade Rixon was going to pinch one at the end, but thankfully we managed to hold them out.
“We were nearly going to throw all the subs and all the spectators behind the ball at one stage, but we did our best to hold them out.”
Gaona has wasted no time settling into life at Wangaratta and already has four goals to his name in two starts.
“He’s only 20 years old and is the best 20-year-old in this area by an absolute country mile,” Antonello said.
“Shawy (Jon Shaw) had a really good game, but the whole back four did a superb job to basically play defence for 45 minutes.
“We had Riley Hamilton go off with a groin strain today, he thought he could have kept going, but there was no point risking it when we were up 2-0 at the time.
“Stoycho (Ivanov) has been training and it looks like we may have to bring him back next week.
“The last few weeks have been hard, we’ve got injuries and a lot of guys unavailable, but I think everybody suffers at this time of year.”
Rixon admitted it was a character-building performance from his side.
“It was a really weird feeling at half-time, we were 2-0 down but it was really positive and the boys felt like it was coming,” Rixon said.
“As soon as they scored first and you’re 3-0 behind you start to question it, but again the boys rolled their sleeves up.
“I was proud of how our back four went, they were thrown together today and a lot of the stuff we did was on the whiteboard instead of on the training track.
“Myrtleford slipped up again, so it leaves it up to us and how far we want to go.
“It wasn’t a matter of win next week, lose next week and that’s the league, I think there’s going to be quite a few twists and turns.”
Boomers stunned Myrtleford for the second time this season with Noah Spiteri’s late effort sealing a 3-2 win on the road.
Twin City edged out Cobram 1-0 away from home, Albury City took down Albury Hotspurs 2-0, while Albury United were 1-0 winners against Wodonga Diamonds at La Trobe on Saturday night.
The senior men’s ladder after round 15 is: Melrose 36, Myrtleford 34, Wangaratta 33, Albury United 31, Boomers 30, Albury City 23, Twin City 23, Cobram 22, Albury Hotspurs 14, Wodonga Diamonds 10, St Pats 8.
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