Altona City has lasted the distance in the Football Federation Victoria men’s state league 3 north-west marathon.
City clung on to second spot on the final day to claim the second automatic promotion spot behind Hoppers Crossing.
City occupied second place for 13 weeks while a host of teams snapped at their heels.
Upfield presented the greatest threat in the middle of the season. When they went back to the pack, local rivals Williamstown tried to hunt them down before Whittlesea United made a gallant late run.
City knew all three points on the final day would guarantee them promotion to state league 2 and they took care of business with a stirring 2-0 win over Lalor United at Kim Reserve on Saturday.
There was unbridled joy in the City camp after the game.
“Great scenes,” City coach Sam Borg told Star Weekly. “We sang the song outside the dressing rooms.
“There were a lot of people here today and everyone is in festive spirits. We’re on top of the world.”
City were never under serious attack from Lalor. They had their defence in order and only had to find a way to the back of the net.
The pressure-releasing first goal came early in the second half when Bobby Lojanica scored for the ninth time in seven matches.
“He wasn’t even meant to play today,” Borg said. “He was under an injury cloud but gave us absolutely everything and was the difference.”
Fittingly, the game’s sealing goal was scored by City’s regular captain Matt McKay, who came on as a second half substitute.
McKay announced his retirement after making a decision to move abroad.
The stand-in skipper was centre-back Ben Sardelic, the home-grown teenager who was arguably the most influential player on the field as he repelled most of Lalor’s attacks.
Perhaps Sardelic, who has come back from two knee reconstructions, is a ready-made replacement for McKay.
“No doubt about it, he would be the best player in the league,” Borg said.
“He’s an Altona City junior, he’s only 19 and led the team out today.
“When you’ve got a player like him, you can build the team around him.”
It was an emotional day for Borg, who announced he was stepping down. He will remain involved in the club but was happy to vacate the position on a high note.
“That was always the plan to see the year out and get us promoted,” he said.
“For me, it’s been a journey, but it’s mission accomplished to get us back to division 2 and now we’ll support whoever comes in and work towards going forward again.”