After a brief intermission to allow NPL clubs to dip their toes into the FFA Cup for the first time, NPL Victoria was back in action last week with Avondale, Bentleigh Greens and Heidelberg United showing no signs of slowing down.
The match of the round did not involve any of the competition’s front-runners however, with all eyes shifting to Somers Street as the Melbourne Knights and South Melbourne reignited the ‘Original Melbourne Derby’ in front of a partisan Knights home crowd.
Both sides entered the contest in the midst of seasons that are not living up to the lofty standards the clubs set for themselves, South sitting in seventh heading into the contest and the Knights eighth, and both were also coming off defeats that saw them crash out of the FFA Cup at the first hurdle. South fell to FFA Cup specialists Hume City on Good Friday while the Knights went out to ambitious NPL2 side Altona Magic on Easter Thursday.
It was Hellas that drew first blood in the marquee fixture, going ahead after 19 minutes when Jake Marshall poked into the net after pouncing on a ball that had been headed back into the area from an out-swinging free kick.
The first half ended with Croatia on top, however. Nikola Jurkovic and Tomislav Uskok netted in the 39th and 44th minutes to give the Knights supremacy heading into the break. Uskok added another six minutes after the restart to make it 3-1 to the Knights, heading in a perfectly placed free kick from Marijan Cvitkovic.
South got one back through superstar Milos Lujic in the 65th minute, but was unable to tie it up late as South fell to their third defeat of the season and 10th position on the table.
The loss means the annual road trip South undergo as they wait for their Albert Park home to become available has resulted in three losses, two draws and a solitary win. Combined with their early exit from the FFA Cup, it places significant pressure on new head coach Sasa Kolman to produce results with the ambitious club’s return to Lakeside this weekend.
South’s poor run of form stands in stark contrast with NPL Victoria’s only other club yet to play at home this season, with Heidelberg United extending their perfect start to the season with a 1-0 victory over northeastern rivals Northcote City.
In a tense affair that saw clashes and injuries on both sides of the ball, it was Alexander Schiavo who grabbed the sole goal of the game, pouncing on a blocked Kostas Kanakaris volley to turn the ball in in the 42nd minute of the contest.
The Bergers’ fellow table-toppers also extended their winning starts to the season. Avondale set a club record with their sixth-straight win after a 1-0 defeat of Dandenong Thunder at George Andrews Reserve and Bentleigh Greens defeating Hume City 3-0 at ABD Stadium.
Despite dominating through much of the contest, Avondale were forced to settle for only one goal against Thunder, coming through Evan Christodoulou.
Arriving into the box late, Christodoulou collected a ball in from the left from Elvis Kamsoba, taking a touch before hammering it past Fraser Maclaren and into the far top corner in the 37th minute to secure the win for the Avengers.
The job was more straightforward for Bentleigh. John Anastasiadis’ side headed into the half time break up 2-0 thanks to strikes from Chris Lucas and Velibor Mitrovic in the 30th and 43rd minutes.
Charlie Fry converted a simple header from a Greens corner in the 75th minute to make it 3-0, with the result meaning the second-placed Greens have brought their goal difference to within one of the top-placed Avondale.
In other action, Pascoe Vale and Green Gully played out a highly entertaining 2-2 draw in their Friday night clash at CB Smith Reserve.
After a back and forth opening, Nicholas Krousoratis broke the deadlock to put Gully ahead in the 41st minute, knocking a deflected free kick in at the far post to give Gully the 1-0 lead heading into the break.
Paco equalised only four minutes into the second half, however. Joseph Youssef went behind himself to get a collect a wayward cutback before spinning and launching a shot that deflected off a Gully defender and into the back of the net.
Youssef then put his side ahead in the 72nd minute. The Paco skipper deftly guided a header past Lucas Spinella in the Gully goal after Amir Osmancevic had picked him out unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box.
The lead lasted only last seven minutes, with Gully capitalising off a Paco turnover deep in their own half to set up Krousoratis for his second and bring the game back level and force the draw.
Oakleigh Cannons left it late to secure victory over Kingston City in their round six encounter, unleashing a late barrage to grab goals in the 87th and 93rd minute en route to a 2-1 victory.
Kingston had gone ahead in the 29th minute after Cannons defender Thomas Matthews misfired and turned the ball into his own net, only to have their dreams of a third win on the season shot down when the Cannons won a penalty in the 85th minute.
Last season’s top scorer Dusan Bosnjak stepped up to take it and made no mistake, bringing the game level with only three minutes of regulation left to play. With time running out, the Cannons reloaded and launched more desperate attacks forward.
They would then be rewarded for their attacking endeavour, when in the 93rd minute, Dean Piemonte fired home to give them the lead and second win of the season.
The round’s final contest saw the Sharks of Port Melbourne add to the woes of FC Bulleen Lions, responding to the 11th minute opener from the Lions’ Lewis Hawke with five goals second half goals.
Yuta Konagaya grabbed a four-minute brace with goals in the 49th and 53rd minutes, before Queensland import Sam Smith would make it 3-1 with a goal of his own in the 64th minute.
Francesco Stella and substitute James Papadimitriou piled on as the second half concluded, with the heavy victory vaulting the Sharks into sixth on the table.
The result resulted in the first sacking of the NPL season, with the Lions midweek announcing that they had parted ways with head coach Aaron Healey.
The former Victory assistant had been in charge at the Veneto Club since October of 2016 but has struggled this season, the Lions finding themselves winless and rooted to the bottom of the NPL table with only a solitary point from their five games this season.