Green Gully captain Luc Jeggo scored the first in his sides 3-1 victory over North Geelong Warriors in Round 20. (Image: Mark Avellino)

Hattricks, goalkeeping blunders and plenty of movement throughout the table in an action packed round 20 of NPL Victoria.

Unity in the face of tragedy

Port Melbourne Sharks 1-0 Heidelberg United

Some things in life are bigger than football and this was evident on Saturday night when Port Melbourne hosted Heidelberg United.

Port junior player Aidan Leonard, the younger brother of senior squad members Mark and Dylan Leonard, sadly passed away on Friday at just 14-years-old.

Hundreds of Port Melbourne faithful braved the elements to fill the stand at JL Murphy Reserve and line the fence around the pitch, as the Sharks family came together to commemorate the loss of one of their own.

Aidan’s junior team mates graced the pitch with the senior sides as a minute’s silence was observed prior to kick off, and the game was underway with 19-year-old Mark Leonard given his first senior start for the Sharks.

It was the visitors who started faster, with the Warriors’ high press causing problems for the Sharks defence in the opening exchanges, but the home side gradually found a foothold in the contest.

Port would finish the half with the better of the chances, but some excellent stops from Heidelberg’s mid-season A-League import Pierce Clark would keep the tie scoreless at the break.

The home side remained on top in the second half, buoyed by the strong support, but despite carving out more chances struggled to find the cutting edge in front of goal.

It looked as if the Sharks were destined for a second scoreless home game in as many weeks, until the 77th minute when they were gifted the lead.

Clark, whose heroics had kept the Bergers’ in the contest so far, was caught dallying on the ball and Chris Duggan was presented with an open net.

Port would hold on for three points, but more importantly the togetherness shown can hopefully provide some solace in this tough time for the Leonard family and the club.

Longest unbeaten run

South Melbourne 0-2 Oakleigh Cannons

With Lakeside Stadium unavailable due to its use as a Women’s World Cup training pitch, South Melbourne welcomed the Oakleigh Cannons to its home away from home for the next few weeks: McIvor Reserve in Yarraville.

The lack of true home field advantage seemed to have an effect on South from the first whistle, as the Cannons dominated the first half and would eventually find the lead through Oliver Kubilay.

His strike piercing through a sea of legs to give the visitors the lead on 31 minutes, and had it not been for a disallowed goal minutes later Hellas could have found themselves two down at the break.

The pressure from Oakleigh was unwavering as the second half began and it didn’t have to wait long before adding a second, as Alex Fiechtner stole in at the near post to tuck away a Stefan Valentini cross.

Whether it was the change of scenery or just a bad day at the office, South couldn’t find a way back into the contest and failed to find the net for just the third time this season.

With the result, Chris Taylor’s Cannons now hold the longest unbeaten run in the competition and sit just one point behind South in the NPL Victoria table.

Stopped the rot

Hume City 3-2 Moreland City

Hume City entered its Saturday night match against Moreland City on the back of a six game run without a point, having slipped to within four points of the relegation zone.

The home side needed a spark and debutant goalkeeper Jackson Reilly provided just that, when he saved a James Hooper penalty after nine minutes.

Hume had scored just once in its lean run over the past six weeks, so fans would have felt a great sense of relief when Josh Bingham bundled home from close range five minutes from half time.

Hume netted a second in a match for the first time since April, when Bingham doubled the lead on the hour mark, but plenty of drama was yet to come.

Six minutes later, a moment of magic from Fletcher Fulton saw him dance his way into the penalty area before firing one back for Moreland.

Just 90 seconds after that, Fulton’s deflected effort secured his brace and restored parity, setting up a grand stand finish to the last quarter of the contest.

The game called out for someone to be the hero and up stepped Matt Lazarides, whose curled effort finally put an end to Hume’s points drought and sent Moreland to the bottom of the table.

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Still top six

Green Gully 3-1 North Geelong Warriors

After being humbled last weekend by Avondale, Green Gully looked to bounce back against a North Geelong side who had finally jumped out of the relegation places after two wins on the bounce.

It was the home side that took charge early, when skipper Luc Jeggo’s effort found the bottom corner inside the opening 15 minutes.

The visitors then became architects of their own downfall, coughing up possession inside their own box to allow Nahuel Bonada to swiftly double the advantage for the Cavaliers.

It took falling two behind to spark the Warriors into a flurry of attempts on goal, but to no avail as the score line remained unchanged at the break.

Tomi Graven’s side began the second half as they finished the first, and were reward just after the hour when Aden Gardner’s back post header was deemed to have crept over the goal line.

Gully was swift in its response, however, and eight minutes later Adolph Koudakpo cut inside from the right and found the bottom corner to put to bed any ideas of a comeback.

While the result sees the men in green and white stay in the top six by a point over Altona, the Warriors now find themselves back in the bottom two.

Masterful from Markovski

Dandenong Thunder 0-3 Altona Magic

Dandenong Thunder were without a win in its last four when hosted an Altona side on Saturday that had been steadily climbing the table in recent weeks.

Riding high off its five goal thriller against Melbourne Knights last week, the Magic put the Thunder goal under considerable stress before Jonas Markovski eventually broke the deadlock.

The league’s leading scorer was at it again on the stroke of half time, when his header looped over Majak Mawith to double the visitors advantage.

The Thunder went as close as shaking the woodwork of Christian Rossi’s goal in the second term but were unable convert, and with just single goal across the last three rounds there will be plenty to ponder during the week.

In injury time, Markovski would wrap up his hattrick to put the cherry on top of a supreme performance, as his side climb to within a point of a finals place.

Jumped two spots

St Albans Saints 0-2 Bentleigh Greens

The Bentleigh Greens’ disaster season saw them start Friday nights trip to St Albans dead last in the table, while the Saints sat just three points above the bottom two.

The Greens have been a shell of the side that saw Dockerty Cup triumph in 2022, but a long distance screamer from Scott Hilliar after 14 minutes was a slice of the old Bentleigh.

A handful of speculative efforts from distance was all either side could muster for the remainder of the term as the visitors maintained their slender lead into half time.

The Greens began to assert its dominance over the Saints in the second half, holding a monopoly on possession and chances, and it seemed only a matter of time before a second would wrap up proceedings.

New signing Moonib Adus would oblige with 20 minutes remaining, his sweetly hit volley found the bottom corner and helped his side climb out of the relegation zone.

As for the hosts, the signing of four new players in the mid-season transfer window has not quite clicked yet, but they will need to find their feet quickly with six games left to play.

A valuable point

Melbourne Knights 1-1 Avondale

When sides come to Knights Stadium they often find it difficult to create much of note, and Avondale similarly found the sting taken out of its high scoring game on Friday night.

Ben Cahn’s side have been set up to be one of the toughest away fixtures for any side this season, and hit the front first against the league leaders.

A loose touch from Avengers keeper Thomas Manos affording Luka Kolic the chance to pounce and snare a lead for the hosts.

As has become commonplace for visiting sides to the Knights domain, Zoran Markovski’s side struggled to carve out direct sights on goal and the single strike would remain the difference at the break.

It was more of the same in the second half as both sides traded periods of possession with a distinct lack of cutting edge in the final third, but the home side would hand the visitors a gift when Stefan Zinni was brought down in the box.

Up stepped Yusuf Ahmed who levelled the scores, but in the final 20 minutes neither side seemed able to find the winning ingredient.

A point keeps Melbourne Knights just ahead of Port Melbourne, while after South’s defeat to Oakleigh, Avondale sit four points clear at the top.

Match to watch in Round 21

Fortunes have fared rather differently for last year’s Dockerty Cup finalists, but the South-Eastern derby between Oakleigh Cannons and Bentleigh Greens still has plenty at stake for both sides.

A lot can change in 10 months, and the Greens have had a rude awakening to how swiftly the tide can turn in this league.

A mass exodus of players and a new head coach has landed Bentleigh in a relegation scrap, unfamiliar territory for one of Victoria’s most successful clubs.

The Cannons will arrive to Kingston Heath on Saturday afternoon on the longest unbeaten run in the league, but still in need of three points on its quest to chase down the top two.

Chris Taylor’s side haven’t missed a beat since being crowned NPL Victoria Champions in 2022, and ran out 3-0 winners in the reverse fixture back in round eight.

That being said, the Greens are now undefeated in its last three and seem to be picking up steam at the business end of the season.

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