A Josh Merkel goal with 42 seconds left on the clock helped Eltham secure a thrilling four-point win over Greensborough on Good Friday.
Merkel coolly converted the set shot from 40m out to secure the 11.7 (73) to 10.9 (69) result in front of a large crowd at War Memorial Park.
The Panthers had earlier looked like easing to their first Good Friday win in fourth attempts when the led by 36 points at half time.
However, the match changed dramatically after the main break and the visitors were forced to come from behind after Rhys Boyden put Greensborough ahead for the first time at the 23-minute mark of the last term.
A shot at goal from Jack Johnston soon after faded out of bounds on the full, with Eltham taking the ball coast to coast, as Hayden Hunt spotted an unmarked Merkel in the final minute.
The key forward’s shot never deviated, with his fourth goal proving to be the match winner.
With Anton Woods in dominant form in the middle of the ground, Eltham made a superb start to the Round 1 clash.
Brandon Freeman kicked the opening two goals in his return to the Panthers after a year at Panton Hill, before quick goals to Merkel and defender Michael Tinkler gave the visitors a 23-point jump midway through the first term.
Jason Rogers responded with Greensborough’s first, however a goal to Merkel from a defensive turnover gave Eltham a four-goal lead at the first break.
Despite Jamie Craker winning the ruck battle, Eltham’s midfield again got on top during the second quarter as it continued to stretch its advantage on the scoreboard.
Merkel booted his third in the opening minute of the term, before Josh Riddle replied for the home side.
That goal did little to spark the Boro as Eltham went on to kick three of the next four goals to take a six-goal advantage into half time.
In his return to the club he once captained, Paul Currie kicked two of those majors and set up Kyle O’Sullivan for the third.
Whatever Robert Hyde said to his side at half time worked wonders, as Greensborough ran rampant early in the third quarter.
With Tristan Stead, Matt Fowler and Jason Rogers getting busy through the midfield, the Boro piled on four goals in seven minutes to close within 12 points.
Josh Riddle and Boyden worked their way into the contest after being presented few opportunities in the first half, while Johnston and Nick Riddle were solid at half back.
Lewis Glasgow kicked a long-range goal against the run of play to extend Eltham’s lead midway through the quarter, but a late goal to Josh Grubb closed the gap to 11 at the final change.
The final quarter was an arm wrestle with both sides unrelenting in their attack on the football and ball carrier.
Josh Riddle broke the shackles when he converted a set shot at the 15-minute mark to bring his side within four points, before Boyden capitalised on Matthew Keys’ only mistake of the game – putting the Boro ahead after receiving a 50m penalty.
With the parochial home crowd at full voice, Greensborough looked like holding on for a memorable come-from-behind win.
However a desperate final foray forward resulted in Merkel’s fourth major as Eltham held on for a thrilling win in Paul King’s first game at the helm.
Final score: Greensborough 10.9 (69) def by Eltham 11.7 (73)
Samuel Zito nfl.org.au