A FOUR-PRONGED assault on the Bendigo Amateur Soccer League men's division one championship shows no signs of abating, after three of the top four sides scored wins on Saturday.
Second-placed Strathdale and third-placed Tatura had to fight hard to get wins over Shepparton and Colts United respectively, while top side Eaglehawk accounted for Epsom 5-1 at Truscott Reserve.
Moama-Echuca Border Raiders let the chance to gain a crucial three points slip, when it had to settle for a draw against Shepparton United.
The Border Raiders (now on 27 points) surrendered third spot to Tatura (29), while Strathdale (29) remained just one point shy of the Hawks (30), who are chasing their fourth-consecutive championship crown.
Strathdale coach Jon Bryers conceded there was nothing pretty about the Blues' 2-0 win against Shepparton, but was still ecstatic to emerge with a valuable three points ahead of a tough five weeks, starting with Colts United this weekend.
"The ground was pretty average and boggy and it was just a scrap all day ... it was good to get out of there with a win," he said.
"There's still four of us in the (championship) race, we just need to keep working. With five games to go, we win all five and it's ours.
"That's the hard part, there's a lot of teams there who want to knock us off - it is what it is. I haven't seen a championship this close for four or five years, so it's going to remain tight all the way.
"The good thing is we see every game for us as winnable."
Bryers praised the Blues' remarkable defence, which has conceded just eight goals in 11 games this season.
"Our defence is our rock right now - our two centre backs Nick Watson and Ethan Hunter are the two mainstays and they have held us together down back," he said.
"Conceding eight goals for the year has pretty much been our saving grace.
"We really need to start taking more advantage of the chances we are creating at the moment."
Matthew Gallagher opened the scoring for the Blues in the first half, with Daniel Purdy striking in the second to ensure the victory.
Tatura coach Donny Cricelli was similarly pleased to gain the points in a tough slog against Colts United.
A double to former Goulburn Valley Suns NPL1 star Cody Sellwood proved pivotal in a 3-1 victory away from home at Strathfieldsaye.
"It was very trying conditions given the weather and the ground was pretty muddy, which made it tough to play good soccer," Cricelli.
"Given the pitch conditions both teams played pretty well and we were very happy to get a win.
"(Winning the championship) will be no easy feat, a few teams are going to have to slip up from here, but it's something we are certainly striving for."
Much like Bryers at Strathdale, Cricelli lauded his side's defence as the key to the win.
"Thomas Corso played really well, and Jarrod Backway really stepped up and played well," he said.
"It was his first senior start for the season - he's been in and out with injuries and work commitments - but he was a very big positive for us.
"Having those few extra options off the bench coming into finals will be a huge plus."
A tough final four games for the Ibises kicks-off this weekend against La Trobe University, which defeated Golden City 3-1 on Sunday, before massive showdowns against Eaglehawk, Strathdale and Shepparton United.
A 5-1 win for Eaglehawk over Epsom included two goals spiece from skipper Brent Hamblin and Nathan Hamblin.
(Winning the championship) will be no easy feat, a few teams are going to have to slip up from here, but it's something we are certainly striving for.Donny Cricelli
At McEwen Reserve, Shepparton United and Moama-Echuca battled out a 2-2 draw.
The Border Raiders led 2-1 at half-time, but a goal in the opening minute of the second half from Evan Rawluck tied the game up.
Rawluck finished the match with a double.
STRATHDALE'S incredible scoring spree against Shepparton has continued, with the Blues helping themselves to a 25-0 victory at Vilbert Reserve.
Amazingly it was one goal fewer than the Blues registered in their victory over Shepparton in round four this season.
Bridget Meadows and Brigid McNamara again showed the way on the scoreboard with seven and five goals respectively.
Lucy Teale and Ella Ryan both contributed hat-tricks, while Nicole Ford and Drew Barker scored twice each for the Blues, who remained in third place after top-three sides Shepparton United, Eaglehawk and Colts United all notched up wins.
Second-placed Eaglehawk accounted for Epsom 9-1, boosted by a pair of goals each from Charlotte Edlin and Josien Osebaar.
Six Hawks players in total contributed to the scoreline. Danielle Michielsen was the lone scorer for the Scorpions.
The league's leading scorer Rebecca Berry continued her good form with a hat-trick in Colts United's 5-2 victory against Tatura. Berry now has 47 goals for the season.
Elizabeth Corbo scored a double for Tatura.
Three individual goal scorers contributed to an in-form La Trobe University's 3-1 win against Golden City.
The win put the Eagles six points ahead of the Rams in the race for sixth place, with La Trobe just three points behind fifth-placed Shepparton South, which had a bye.
Top side Shepparton United defeated Moama-Echuca 3-0.
This weekend's matches will be highlighted by the battle between third-placed Colts United and fourth-placed Strathdale at Beischer No. 1.
United won the team's earlier season contest in May 4-1.
In other games, Spring Gully United returns to action after a bye against Moama-Echuca, Shepparton South hosts Swan Hill, La Trobe University makes the trip to Tatura, Epsom clashes with Shepparton United, and Golden City faces Eaglehawk.
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