Whilst they may have dropped their first points of the season in their 1-1 draw with South Melbourne on Sunday, Bentleigh Greens remain one of the early stories of the season in NPL Victoria.
Losing nine players from the side that won the 2017 NPL Victoria grand final, many expected the Greens to take a step back in 2018, as they looked to rebuild under head coach John Anastasiadis.
However, after seven rounds of the campaign completed, it looks more and more like the team from Melbourne’s southeast have reloaded rather than rebuilt, sitting in second position on the ladder with six wins and a draw.
On Sunday the Greens showed their grit to come from behind and come away with a point against South Melbourne in Hellas’ return to Lakeside Stadium, and Anastasiadis praised the efforts of both South and his own group following the fixture.
“I think South were gallant,” Anastasiadis said.
“They were very good, and we knew that was going to happen, they were bound to bounce back because they’ve got a very good team.
“My boys showed a lot of heart and spirit and I thought in that first half after the first ten, fifteen we had the ascendancy and then the second half we sort of came over the top.
“They had the red card, so we sort of just kept pressing and pressing and pressing and got our just reward.
“It was one of those great NPL games that you look back on and say two teams here wanted to do the right thing and play the football.
“At times there were some bad tackles, but that’s football, we didn’t shy away, we went toe to toe with them and maybe they thought the same.
“All in all I think it was a fair result.”
The Greens currently sit in second behind Avondale on the NPL Victoria table. Their 19 points is a five-point improvement over their tally from this time last year.
Asked how his outfit had been able to seemingly not miss a beat in 2018 despite their squad being pillaged in the offseason, Anastasiadis pointed to the recruitment strategy Bentleigh adopted this past offseason.
“I think the boys that we brought in, the recruitment, was spot on,” he reflected.
“We’ve brought in some boys that have bought into our philosophy and the way we play. We thought that that’s the only way we’re going to do it and lucky for us it’s come off.
“We’ve had some hairy moments, but we’ve shown that we’re playing the right kind of football.
“We’re also showing a lot of heart this year. It’s been a team effort in getting the desired result.”
One particular recruit that has stood out for Anastasiadis’ side is Jason Hicks. The 28-year-old, originally from Kent in England, is a former New Zealand international and has been a standout for the Greens since his arrival from the Melbourne Knights in the offseason, with four goals on the campaign so far.
Anastasiadis says that the best is yet to come from Hicks however, with the Greens’ new man still adjusting to life at Kingston Heath.
“Jason was one player when we brought in that we thought we could get out of the wilderness and bring him in he could show what he’s worth,” Anastasiadis explained.
“He’s a Kiwi international, so he’s no pushover, and he’s a quality player that’s getting better and better every game.
“We’ve seen that the players are adapting to him and he’s adapting to them, and that’s good for us. And he’s getting his rewards by scoring goals.”
The Greens will next week host the marquee fixture of NPL Victoria’s Round 8, hosting powerhouses and 2017 premiers and national champions Heidelberg United.
United are one of two sides in NPL Victoria that still possess a 100% winning record on the 2018 campaign, the other being Avondale, and they sit behind the Greens by virtue of a postponed fixture from earlier in the season against Bulleen Lions.
Anastasiadis acknowledged his wariness of the Bergers but said that his side was fit, firing and looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s another big game,” he said.
“Last time we played them they beat us convincingly 4-1 in the Community Shield, so the boys have that in the back of their mind.
“They’re a powerhouse of the NPL, so it’s another tough game for us. But you want it that way, you don’t want the NPL to be an easy stroll through the park.
“We can’t wait for that game and we’ll be all ready. Everyone’s ready, everyone’s ok and there are no injuries so we’re pretty happy with that.”