By Craig MacKenzie
Former Hearts attacking midfielder Ryan Stevenson has changed his mind at the 11th hour and scuppered his planned move to Australia to join Peninsula Strikers.
He was hours away from boarding a flight at Glasgow Airport and Strikers officials had arranged to meet their star import at Melbourne Airport tonight (Monday).
The 32-year-old attacking midfielder or striker has played over 400 games as a professional in Scotland and England and had just arranged his visa and international clearance and the club had registered him as a Striker’s player.
Stevenson is from the former mining village of Drongan in Ayrshire and began his professional career as a youth player with English giant Chelsea.
He returned to Scotland in 2002 and joined St Johnstone before switching to Ayr United, initially on loan before making the move permanent in 2007.
In 2010 Stevenson started the first of two spells at Hearts, joined English outfit Ipswich Town in 2012 then transferred back to Hearts that same year.
Since then he has had stints with Partick Thistle, Ayr United, Dumbarton and Raith Rovers and ended his professional career last month when he signed for Troon in the West of Scotland Super League Premier Division.
Stevenson’s professional career highlights include scoring both goals in Hearts’ 3-2 loss to St Mirren in the 2013 Scottish League Cup Final, scoring for Hearts in wins over Glasgow giants Rangers and Celtic and Edinburgh rival Hibs and being called up to the Scotland squad in 2011 for a friendly against Cyprus.
State 1 North-West outfit Preston Lions last week made a cheeky bid to prise Stevenson from Strikers’ clutches.
It is believed that Preston offered Stevenson $700 a game but the Scot rejected their overtures and phoned Strikers’ coach Craig Lewis to tell him what had happened.
“Ryan rang me as soon as Preston tried to sign him and said that he told them he had agreed with Strikers and that he would honour his word,” said Lewis.
The latest twist to the Stevenson story took Strikers completely by surprise and the club was still coming to terms with his change of heart as this story went online.
“I received a text from Ryan just hours before he was due to board a flight to Australia saying that he wouldn’t be coming here as it was too big a move away from his two young sons,” said Lewis.
“He has pulled out of the move. It’s completely off and to say I am devastated is an understatement.”
Strikers last week ended negotiations with another Scottish midfielder, Cowdenbeath’s Brian Ross, and have now turned their attention to 22-year-old defender Sean McCall who joined Kirkintilloch Roy Roy last August from Tower Hearts.
It is unclear whether or not the club will reopen negotiations with Ross now that the Stevenson deal has fallen through but Lewis will hold a Skype session with McCall this week and hopes to entice the Scot to Centenary Park.
Lewis has also been active on the local market with the capture of 18-year-old former Bentleigh Greens midfielder Emmanual Brima and late last week completed the signing of left winger Vladimir Kosovac from Goulburn Valley Suns.
Kosovac, 22, was with Serbian club OFK Beograd in 2016.
English central defender Michael Nugent is training with Strikers and is expected to sign. Nugent was a teammate of Mornington star Ryan Paczkowski at Harworth Colliery in the Central Midlands League North.
Don’t be surprised if Strikers make a bid to sign big English striker Gino Defeo who severed ties with Mornington last weekend.
Defeo and Aziz Bayeh would make a formidable attacking option.
The need to strengthen Strikers’ squad was emphasised on Saturday as the club lost its fourth straight league game going down to a 22nd minute Gethin Jones goal at home to State 2 South-East rival Doveton.
Danijel Buhic of Doveton was sent off in the 50th minute.
Langwarrin remained on top of the State 1 South-East ladder after Saturday’s 3-1 home win against neighbour Casey Comets.
Ex-Langy midfielder Ray Markley was on the end of a long free-kick in the 3rd minute but shot straight at Langy keeper Robbie Acs and three minutes later a Connor Belger free kick put Langy 1-0 up.
Markley headed over following an Andy Stubley cross from the right in the 10th minute and Aaran Currie’s curled shot in the 15th minute was acrobatically tipped onto the far post by Comets’ custodian Faraz Zanoozi.
Ryan Hughes burst through into a one on one with Acs in the 20th minute but the keeper spread himself superbly to block and Langy went further ahead in the 22nd minute thanks to an own goal following a Belger free kick.
Currie’s deflected low shot in the 34th minute beat Zanoozi at the near post to make it 3-0 and Langy was cruising.
Two minutes into the second half Markley shot over from the left of the Langy area and in the 50th minute a superb Jesse Martindale free kick made it 3-1.
In the 63rd minute Allando Matheson skinned John Guthrie and curled the ball towards the top far corner but Acs at full stretch tipped it wide.
Langy midfielder Paul Speed was forced to clear off the line from the resultant corner and that was as close as Comets came to clawing their way back into the contest.
Matheson had chances to pull the trigger but his overuse of the ball proved his undoing.
Mornington returned to winning ways last weekend after a shake-up to the starting line-up that saw central midfielders Grant Smart and Chris Reid on the bench with Nathan Yole and Danny Black taking over the full back spots.
But State 1 South-East opponent Clifton Hill had the home side on the back foot after the referee ruled that substitute Josh Valadon, who had replaced an injured Black, handled during a Clifton Hill break and Jonathan Voulgaras converted easily from the penalty spot in the 30th minute.
But three second half goals settled the issue and Mornington eventually ran out a 3-1 victor.
A long free kick into the Cilfton Hill area and a poor attempted punch by Clifton Hill keeper Chris Davis allowed Paczkowski to pounce and strike home a first time shot from close range in the 55th minute.
Six minutes later a long throw and a dreadful attempt to head clear saw Paczkowski conjure up a clever overhead kick to make it 2-1.
Simon Mur sealed the win in the last few minutes after substitute Smart and Wayne Gordon played a one-two on the right before Gordon’s ball over the top sent Mur through and he neatly clipped the ball over the advancing Davis.
Frankston Pines broke through for its first league win of the season when it downed Doncaster Rovers 2-0 in their State 2 South-East clash at Monterey Reserve last weekend.
Pines keeper Alfonso Cardinale was in outstanding form saving a first half penalty before Jack Wrobel gave Pines the lead in the 33rd minute.
Luke Murray played the ball to Ioasa Saemo on the left and his far post cross was chested down by Wrobel who then tucked it under advancing Doncaster keeper Mathew Davoli.
In the 65th minute both sides were reduced to 10 men when Francois Armansin of Pines and Peter Addo of Doncaster were sent off.
The game was put out of the visitors’ reach in the 85th minute when Mauritian import Cedric Permal engineered a superb breakaway and sent Wrobel clear and his clinical finish made it 2-0.
Seaford United lost its State 2 South-East home game against North Caulfield 4-2 on Sunday.
Dylan Waugh put Seaford ahead after eight minutes with a simple tap in past stranded North Caulfield keeper Sam Quinn but a Daniel Sacks free kick in the 29th minute was handled in the defensive wall and Sacks converted from the penalty spot to make it 1-1.
The highlight of the second half was a hat-trick to veteran striker Oran Harel and the reply by Seaford substitute Tom Natoli in the dying minutes was too little too late for a disappointing home team.
Skye United’s 5-1 win over Middle Park in their State 3 South-East clash at Skye Recreation Reserve on Saturday was underpinned by a hat-trick to Nick Theodore.
It was an aggressive opening stanza with the first 15 minutes relatively even until Mark O’Connor curled one around the Middle Park custodian to open the scoring.
Minutes later Theodore capitalised on a defensive error to make it 2-0 but in the 42nd minute Skye defender Johnny Andrinopolous was dispossessed in the final third and Middle Park’s Andrew Gibson made it 2-1.
Shortly after Theodore ensured the hosts maintained their two-goal buffer at the break with a classy finish from inside the box.
Skye dominated long periods of the second half and a Marcus Collier drive from outside the box and Theodore’s hat-trick completed the rout.
Baxter’s 3-1 win over Dandenong South in their State 4 South fixture was soured by a season-ending injury to midfielder Liam Tinsley late in the first half that saw him taken to Frankston Hospital with a cracked femur and an ACL injury.
A classy hat-trick to striker Mark Pagliarulo was a match highlight, his first goal coming in the 14th minute when he finished a great solo run with a stunning strike from a tight angle.
Pagliarulo made it 2-0 just before half-time after a neat one-two with Jack Gallagher.
A clumsy challenge by Markus Oliphant in the 68th minute allowed Malik Sulemani to convert from the penalty spot to make it 2-1 but Pagliarulo was at the back post to head home a Travis Ernsdoerfer cross in the 80th minute.
The visitors struck the woodwork six times in what was a hard fought contest.
Rosebud Heart lost 3-2 at home to Bayside Argonauts last weekend and veteran midfielder Adam Poole had to be substituted late in the match with a suspected Achilles injury.
Adrian Lotca opened the scoring for Bayside in the 12th minute getting a favourable rebound from his challenge with Heart keeper Sean Skelly and tapping the ball into an unguarded goal.
Dave Greening equalised two minutes into the second half when he deftly slotted the ball past Bayside keeper James Howarth but an excellent strike into the far corner by Stephen Patterson in the 55th minute restored Bayside’s lead.
Heart hit back in less than a minute after Cory Osorio beat three opponents then cheekily chipped Howarth from 25 metres to make it 2-2.
A pivotal moment in this clash came when Greening rounded Howarth and scored only to be controversially ruled offside and that decision came back to haunt Heart in the 79th minute when a long throw was flicked on by Tony Saric and bobbled over the line for the winner.
Somerville Eagles continued their winless start to their inaugural State League campaign when they were on the wrong end of a 7-2 hiding from Chelsea FC last weekend and now prop up the State 5 South ladder.
This weekend’s games:
SATURDAY, 3pm: Warragul Utd v Langwarrin (Baxter Park, Warragul), Seaford Utd v Peninsula Strikers (North Seaford Reserve), Doveton v Frankston Pines (Waratah Reserve), Riversdale v Skye Utd (Frog Hollow Reserve), Keysborough v Baxter (Coomoora Reserve), Dandenong South v Rosebud Heart (Fotheringham Reserve), Somerville Eagles v Pakenham Utd (Somerville Secondary College).
SATURDAY, 8pm: Mooroolbark v Mornington (Esther Park Reserve).