Tim Michell, Diamond Valley Leader

ELTHAM is one win away from reclaiming its place in Northern Football League Division 1 after slogging its way to victory in Saturday’s major semi-final against Lower Plenty.

The Panthers did not hit the front until the last quarter at Epping Reserve after the Bears kicked the opening two goals in heavy rain, yet prevailed 6.8 (44) to 4.6 (30).

“This time last year, we were pretty shattered about getting relegated,” Eltham coach Paul King said.

“We wanted to rebound as quick as we possibly can because we think we have got a pretty good side.

“The feeling around the club is grouse. The reserves are in the grand final and our under-19s are in the second semi.”

Eltham answered the early challenge through Lewis Glasgow and big man Tom Evans, drawing within three points during the second term when its ruckman launched a long-range goal from outside 50.

Goals were at a premium as rain tumbled and Leigh Gray capitalised on a chance late in the first half to put Lower Plenty nine points clear at the main break.

But the Panthers, who enjoyed a 15-match winning streak in Division 2 before finishing as minor premier, would not go away.

Momentum was on their side when Brendan O’Sullivan produced a moment of individual brilliance to kick the only goal of a tense third quarter, bringing his team within two points.

Eltham led for the first time three minutes into the fourth term, but Thomas Carafa’s major was cancelled out when key forward Tom Blake converted from a freekick for Lower Plenty.

The key moment arrived when spearhead Michael Still juggled a mark and drilled his first goal seven minutes into the last term.

The set shot never looked like missing and from that point, the Panthers dominated the battle for territory.

Anton Woods sealed the result when he put Eltham 13 points ahead with 10 minutes to play.

“I think they have been waiting for today,” King said.

“There was probably a little bit of nerves today, just to get to that next game.

“Sometimes these games can be the hardest games to win.”

While Lewis Glasgow left the field in the first half with a corked hip and Woods appeared to roll his ankle, King said both would be fit for the decider.

Lower Plenty will face either Banyule or Thomastown in the preliminary final.