(Picture: Mark Avellino/NPL Victoria)

No shared points for the second week in a row, plenty of goals and a game spread across two days headlined a wild Round 17 of NPL Victoria Season 2023.

Blockbusters over two days

South Melbourne 3-2 Dandenong Thunder

The phrase ‘a game of two halves’ has never rung more true than it did for South Melbourne’s match against Dandenong Thunder. On Sunday afternoon, the first half of the contest saw South hit the front early after a moment of madness from Thunder keeper Majak Mawith. As Ali Sulemani was played in down the right hand side, Mawith came sprinting out of his area in an attempt to close down, but Sulemani arrived first and finished an outrageous chipped effort from 40 yards. A distinct lack of celebration from Dandenong’s former favourite son.

The Thunder responded with plenty of verve and vigour and would create sustained pressure on the home side’s goal for the majority of the second half, but Javi Lopez in the South net proved an impenetrable wall. The reigning premiers are making a habit of sneaking goals just before the break, and injury time it was so again, Marcus Schroen on hand to bundle Max Mikkola’s parried shot over the line. The first half drama was not over yet though, as a minute later the Thunder hit back with a goal that its play from the first half had deserved, as Leo Mazis cut the ball back from the by-line for Kasper Hallam to finish from close range.

In quite bizarre circumstances the match would have to be stopped at half time after a light malfunction at Lakeside Stadium, meaning the second half would be rescheduled to be played on Tuesday at 8pm. Lights fixed, play under way and 10 minutes into the second term South restored its two goal buffer. Some excellent interplay down the right resulted in a Jack Painter-Andrews cross which was deflected into his own net by Thunder captain Harry Ascroft. Despite Dandenong’s continued stranglehold on possession, South with its league-best defensive record stood firm, but a spanner was thrown in the works 10 minutes from time when Morgan Evans was sent off for a dangerous challenge on Josh Karantz. The drama intensified three minutes later when Schroen was shown a second yellow, forcing South to try and see out the game with only nine players.

A grandstand finish was set up when Ascroft headed Thunder to within a goal of restoring parity in injury time, but it wasn’t enough as the men from Lakeside would hang on by the skin of their teeth. The result seeing Dandenong drop out of the top six, while South stay level on points league leaders Avondale.

Scintillating second half

Port Melbourne 1-3 Green Gully

Port Melbourne had won five of its last six games in NPL Victoria prior to Friday night’s visit from Green Gully, conceding just two goals across that span. The spirits were high in the Sharks camp, and when Luca Tevere swept home a Jackson Courtney-Perkins cut back after five minutes, the home crowd at JL Murphy Reserve was hungry for more. Clear cut chances would prove hard to come by for either side for the remainder of the first term, however, and Port’s slender one goal advantage would remain until the break.

Whatever Stephen Downes said to his troops at half time evidently must have struck a chord, as Gully would go on to produce an inspired second 45. The Cavaliers press was suffocating, and 10 minutes into the second term they were level. The green and white swarm won possession inside the Port half and flooded forward, with Nahuel Bonada eventually finishing at the back post. Seven minutes later Adolph Koudakpo towered over all comers to head home a Gianluca Iannucci free kick and Green Gully were in front. Port Melbourne’s frailties from set pieces exploited again, the Sharks with the worst record in the league at defending dead ball situations.

Port had no answer for the onslaught on its goal, and with 78 minutes on the clock it was all but over. Koudakpo bursting in behind, leaving defenders in his wake before calmly slotting past Driscoll for his fourth goal in as many games. The result sees the Cavaliers complete the season double over the Sharks as they climb into the top six, now just three points behind their Friday night hosts.

Unbeaten in six

Oakleigh Cannons 5-1 Heidelberg United

It became clear very quickly that Friday was going to be a long night for the travelling Heidelberg support watching their side against the Oakleigh Cannons. The visitors conceded the first shot on target inside 30 seconds, and then fell a goal behind from the resulting corner, when Stefan Valentini headed home. Midway through the first half it was Valentini again, whose deflected shot from range put the Cannons two to the good. The Bergers were evidently not at the races as Joe Guest was then given far too much time on the edge of the box to fire a rasping effort into the bottom corner, Oakleigh in command at the break.

The second period saw George Katsakis’ side respond well, with Eoin Ashton pegging one back for the visitors on 63 minutes with a well taken volley. However, any chance of a comeback was put to bed when Valentini wrapped up his hat-trick 20 minutes later. Slamming the ball into the top right corner from just inside the area for his seventh of the campaign. Alex Salmon was rolled through on goal by Guest five minutes from time to put an exclamation point on a five star performance for the Cannons. Chris Taylor’s side now boast the second longest unbeaten run in the league behind only South Melbourne. It was a night to forget for the Bergers, whose task doesn’t get any easier as they welcome South to Olympic Village this Friday.

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An expected outcome

Avondale 3-0 North Geelong Warriors

Everything has to go your way when you’re the last placed side in the table looking for a result against the league leaders. This was not the case for North Geelong, as 10 minutes into its trip to Avondale and the visitors were behind. Stefan Zinni was brought down in the area and Yusuf Ahmed converted from 12 yards before the Avengers even got out of first gear. The Warriors were doing their upmost to hold till half time and avoid conceding again, but most teams in the league would have struggled to stop Avondale’s second goal. A gorgeous left footed effort into the top corner from Liston Diaz making a serious case for goal of the round as Avondale headed into half time two up. 

It wasn’t long before the top side in NPL Victoria would put the game beyond any doubt, as just seven minutes into the second half Ahmed headed home his second of the afternoon. With the result virtually wrapped up, Avondale were guilty of taking its foot off the gas, resulting in a more end-to-end finish to the last half hour. It proved to be of little consequence though, as the score line would remain intact to leave the Avengers still top on goal difference over South Melbourne, and the Warriors still two points adrift at the bottom.

Solidifying top four

Bentleigh Greens 0-1 Melbourne Knights 

After having their club record eight game unbeaten run ended by South Melbourne last week, Melbourne Knights travelled to Bentleigh eager to return to winning ways to stay in touch with the top three. The Greens on the other hand were themselves desperate for three points to climb out of the relegations places, in what has been a forgettable season to date. It was a cagey affair at Kingston heath, just the one shot on target registered for the whole first term, with Ciaran Bramwell going close for Knights after 15 minutes. Both sides struggling to create anything of note as the deadlock remained unbroken at the break.

The second half continued in a similar fashion, with clear cut chances few and far between, but with an hour gone the Knights finally struck gold. It would take a moment of individual brilliance to breakthrough, Mohammed Sumaoro cutting in from the left before unleashing his strike past Bon Scott. The single goal proving enough to decide the contest, as the Knights open up their lead over fifth placed Port Melbourne to seven points. You feel something has to give soon for Bentleigh as the relegation anxiety begins to creep into the minds of the Greens faithful.

Markovski leads the way

Altona Magic 3-1 Moreland City

Hot off their five goal rout of North Geelong last week, the Altona Magic lined up another bottom three side in Moreland City. It didn’t take long for the Magic to assert their dominance, Tommy Semmy winning his side a penalty inside the opening 10 minutes. League leading scorer Jonas Markovski stepped up to put away his 11th of the season. After 30 minutes the Magic doubled their advantage, when Cian Cuba’s cross was met by Miki Gamo, whose looping header avoided Calamatta’s grasp. Moreland halved the deficit nine minutes later when Kur Arob rose highest to head home from corner, but its hopes of mounting a second half comeback took a major hit just before the break. Michael Tzoutzidis picking up his second booking for a reckless challenge on Markovski, leaving his side with a mountain to climb.

To City’s credit, they were able to hold out with the man disadvantage for over half an hour, but Markovski was not to be denied his second of the night. After going close five minutes earlier, with 78 minutes gone this time he was found unmarked inside the box and wrapped up the points for the Magic. Altona now sitting a single point outside the top six, with a chance to leapfrog Green Gully on its travels to face the Cavaliers in Round 18. Meanwhile, Moreland face the daunting prospect of hosting league leaders Avondale this weekend.

Some welcome respite

St Albans Saints 3-0 Hume City

After conceding 11 goals across its last three games, St Albans needed to stop the rot just as much as it needed three points. Facing a Hume City side without a goal in its last three it was case of who would flinch first. It seemed as if neither would for the first 45 at Churchill Reserve, as both sides would test the opposition goalkeeper but fail to find the back of the net.

The second half saw the contest open up in the Saints favour and just after the hour mark they broke through. Mo Zwed taking the ball from inside his own half, past three Hume defenders, before lacing a shot into the roof of the net. City failed to muster much of a fight back after going behind, struggling to create any sort of sustained pressure on the St Albans goal. In the final stages of the match the home side would put the game to bed, scoring twice in five minutes. George Ott squared the ball to Daniel Fabrizio who finished from close range for the second, before Ott cashed in on a loose ball shortly after to wrap up the points. The result sees the Saints now just one point behind Hume in the table as City’s search for its first goal since Round 14 continues.

Match to watch in Round 18

Football fans in Victoria are spoilt for choice this Friday night with four matches on offer including a Greek derby between Heidelberg United and South Melbourne. However, a possibly even more tantalising contest is between the fourth-placed Melbourne Knights and fifth-placed Port Melbourne. Mohammed Sumaoro scored the winner for Knights in a thrilling 3-2 reverse fixture back in Round 5, and is in form after his brilliant goal against Bentleigh at the weekend. Ben Cahn’s side have been rejuvenated this season after a disappointing 2022 season.

After its loss to Green Gully last Friday, the Sharks will be desperate for a win at Knights
stadium, as they looks to close the seven point gap on their hosts. Chris Duggan converted from the penalty spot for the Port Melbourne at JL Murphy Reserve in March, but is still sidelined with an injury. The Port faithful will hope that Dor Jok can re-find the form that saw him net a hat-trick two weeks ago against Moreland City.

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