The rise and rise of Hoppers Crossing is continuing in the Football Federation Victoria men’s state leagues.
The Reds have earned an incredible third promotion in four seasons, confirming a no worse than top-two finish to the state league 2 season with a 2-1 win over Essendon United in the penultimate round at JH Allan Reserve in Keilor East on Saturday.
The Shaun Barbara-coached Reds have a chance to be promoted as champions heading into the final round, as they were back in 2014 under Alfonso Opazo and in 2015 under Steve Iosifidis.
But Barbara allowed his players a chance to let their hair down on Saturday night to celebrate their promotion achievement.
“From my perspective, the boys have had a long year, they’ve worked their butts off and we’ve got two full days until we train on Tuesday, so they can go and enjoy themselves,” he said.
“A lot of the boys are gathering back down at the club tonight and we’ll savour the moment a bit and enjoy it.
“The boys are well aware we’ve still got one game to go and it’s all to play for, but you can’t be a bah-humbug type of thing and put a dampener on the day for them.
“This is what they’ve worked for, this is what they’ve wanted, this is what we’ve wanted as a club and the boys have worked well to achieve that, so we’ll give them a bit of freedom tonight and let them enjoy themselves.”
But Hoppers Crossing is far from content to go up as runner-up.
The Reds are level on points with ladder-leader Altona City, but have an inferior goal difference of -3.
The odds are against Hoppers Crossing, given it has the tougher match – against fourth-placed Fitzroy City at Grange Reserve on Saturday. Altona City will face third-last Diamond Valley United.
But Barbara is aware that stranger things have happened on final days.
“We’ve still got one game to go and a title is still up for grabs,” he said. “It’s nice to have a little bit of freedom going into the last game [with promotion sealed], but for me I want to do the job.
“They’re [Fitzroy City] coming to us, we want to beat them and beat them convincingly and put the pressure on Altona City.”
Hoppers Crossing was made to sweat for its three points against Essendon United.
United was already relegated from the division, but put up a good fight against the Reds.
“They certainly didn’t play like a bottom two side that’s just been relegated,” Barbara said.
“Was there a little bit of subconscious nerves on our players’ behalf, knowing that we needed to get a result? We didn’t have a great game and Essendon made it difficult – they put in a good shift, they worked hard, they looked dangerous when they went forward, but so did we at times.”
Goals to Daniel Sweeney and Liam McDermott were enough to secure promotion for Hoppers Crossing.