01/03/2024

South Melbourne's Jack Painter-Andrews found the back of the net in his side's 4-0 victory. Photo Credit: Mark Avellino Photography

Blowout wins, thrilling narrow losses and a few points shared – Round 19 of Season 2023 in NPL Victoria had it all.

Second half Semmy

Altona Magic 3-2 Melbourne Knights

Both Melbourne Knights and Altona Magic were looking to bounce back after last week’s defeats when Paisley Park set the stage for Saturday night’s contest. It was the home side that made the faster start, with Josh Markovski steaming into the box to latch onto the end of a Cian Cuba cross after 14 minutes. 

Just seven minutes later the Knights would strike back when Gevaro Nepomuceno’s volley fizzed into the bottom corner, and the travelling fans would be cheering again before the end of the half. Ciaran Bramwell was able to beat Christian Rossi to the ball and head home into an empty net as his side headed into the break up 2-1.

After being kept quiet last week against Green Gully, Tommy Semmy was not be denied for a second consecutive week, and all he needed was two second half minutes to put his stamp on the match. After cutting in from the left side of the box he fired past Oldfield to restore parity, and four minutes later he put the Magic in front from the penalty spot after Jonas Markovski was felled in the area.

The next half hour was a thrilling, end to end spectacle, but with about 10 minutes left, the Magic started to batten down the hatches. The Knights came with a late flurry of efforts but were unable to break through the red and black wall, as John Markovski’s side held on to inflict back to back losses on Melbourne for the first time this season.

First half demolition

South Melbourne 4-0 St Albans Saints

St Albans faced a tall task last Tuesday when it had a four day turnaround to face a South Melbourne side well rested after having its round 18 match against Heidelberg postponed. The Saints couldn’t have got off to a worse start, conceding a penalty inside the opening five minutes, which was promptly put away by Max Mikkola. 

After half an hour played South doubled the lead when Lirim Elmazi was quickest to react to a loose ball in the box, and eight minutes later Jack Painter-Andrews smoked an effort in off the cross bar to make it three. Pat Langlois would compile the misery on St Albans three minutes later, heading home a fourth as the home side had three points all but wrapped up at half time. 

Unsurprisingly, the second half had the sting taken out of it, with Hellas in cruise control and the travelling side not putting up much in the way of a fight back. The score line would remain intact and the Saints are now sitting just three points above the bottom three with seven games remaining. 

Record breaking performance

Green Gully 0-4 Avondale

It’s hard to go toe-to-toe with Avondale this season at the best of times, but as Green Gully found out on Friday it’s a whole lot harder with only 10 men. A rush of blood from Gully goalkeeper Liam Driscoll saw him heading for an early shower 10 minutes in after a hard foul on Stefan Zinni. 

After that it seemed a matter of when, not if, Avondale would score and it only took seven minutes to find out, with Christian Trajceski netting the first. Liam Boland was next up as he finished off a flowing passing move to double the lead, before Blake Carpenter would find the bottom corner on the stroke of half time to have the Avengers three to the good. 

The league leaders would have been forgiven for taking their foot off the gas in the second half but they continued to press on for a fourth goal. The Cavaliers were evidently in damage control, and managed to hold out until five minutes from time, when Yusuf Ahmed’s deflected effort added insult to injury. Avondale stay atop the NPL Victoria tree, and with its four goals on Friday have now broken the record for the most goals scored (65) in a single season in the NPL Victoria era.

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Off the bottom

North Geelong Warriors 1-0 Moreland City

After picking up its third win of the season last week, North Geelong knew it could jump off the bottom of the ladder and leapfrog the visiting Melbourne City with victory on Saturday. The Warriors got off to the best possible start, with seven minutes gone when Luka Jurkovic’s cross was deflected into his own net by Michael Tzoutzidis; who after just returning from suspension, can’t seem to catch a break at the moment. In a first half of few chances the goal would prove enough to see the home side through to the break with their slender lead intact.

North Geelong seemed content to sit back on its lead and hit City on the break for much of the second half, and it allowed the visitors to have the lion’s share of meaningful attempts on goal. The Warriors defence, spurred on by the home support, stood firm and outside of a frantic last five minutes remained largely untroubled. The Warriors holding on to for a win that sees them lift off the bottom of the table for the first time since round seven. 

Five straight for Salmon

Hume City 0-1 Oakleigh Cannons

On Saturday night, Oakleigh, boasting the second longest undefeated streak in the league travelled to face a Hume City side without a point since round 14. Both sides showed fleeting moments of control in the first half but neither was able to breakthrough. Although Hume’s Eren Arslan probably would’ve considered himself the busier of the two keepers.

The contest was crying out for someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and seconds into the second half Alex Salmon did just that. Shifting the ball onto his right foot at the top of the box before curling his effort into the bottom corner to score for the fifth consecutive game. The single goal would prove enough to see the Cannons to victory, as Hume failed to trouble the visitors goal for the remainder of the second half, and its lean run now extends to five games.

Point not enough

Bentleigh Greens 1-1 Heidelberg United

For two of the most successful sides in the NPL over the last decade, 2023 has not met expectations for fans of Heidelberg United and Bentleigh Greens. The former travelled to Kingston Heath in urgent need of three points as the prospect of finals football is slipping away, while Saturdays hosts are staring down the barrel of relegation. Sitting second last to begin the days play, the Greens struck first when Mario Barcia’s volley snuck through a sea of legs to find the back of the net. The Bergers were not without chances of their own but could not find a breakthrough as Bentleigh held its lead to half time. 

The visitors started stronger after the restart and just before the hour mark they found a way through, as Kane Sheppard was on hand to finish from close range after some excellent work from Kenny Athiu. Heidelberg maintained its pressure on the Greens’ goal until the final whistle but were unable to come away with anything more than a point, leaving them seven points adrift of the top six. It’s panic stations for Bentleigh, as North Geelong’s victory over Melbourne City leaves last year’s Dockerty Cup Champions rock bottom of the table.  

Excellent goalkeeping performance

Port Melbourne 0-0 Dandenong Thunder

After Green Gully’s defeat at the hands of Avondale, Dandenong Thunder were eager to make up ground for a top six place against a Port Melbourne side looking to close the gap on the top four. The Sharks flew out of the blocks and could have been three up inside 15 minutes were it not for some poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping from Majak Mawith. The Thunder managed to gain a foothold in the contest and enjoyed its own period of ascendency, albeit without the final touch, and a frantic first half would remain scoreless at the break. 

The home side started the second half as they did the first and forced numerous saves from Mawith, who has been in inspired form of late. The Thunder shot stopper proved to be a thorn in the Sharks side for the full 90 minutes, but his side couldn’t best Andrew Withers in the Port goal either and both sides would had to settle for a solitary point. 

Match to watch in Round 18

The sole game this Sunday sees the 2022 NPL Victoria Premiers take on the 2022 NPL Victoria Champions when South Melbourne host Oakleigh Cannons at Lakeside Stadium. A game that needs very little advertisement to generate hype, the two sides face off with currently the best and second best form in the competition. Oakleigh unbeaten since its defeat to Avondale in round 11 while South have not dropped a single point since its stalemate against Hume City in round 8. 

Cannons front man Alex Salmon heads into Sunday’s match on a five game scoring streak, but his season tally of eight goals falls one short of South’s leading scorer Max Mikkola.

South’s squad has been bolstered ahead of this blockbuster clash with the signing of Yagoub Mustafa from Hume City this week. No additions for Chris Taylor’s side but it’s not as if they have shown the need for any additional help in recent weeks.

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