NPL Victoria returned for 2018 on Thursday night as defending champions Bentleigh Greens defeated promoted Dandenong Thunder 3-1 at Kingston Heath.
After Zois Galanopoulos opened the scoring for the visiting Thunder, Jason Hicks, Matt Thurtell and Dimitri Hatzimouratis fired back for the Greens, who steadied the ship after their 4-1 defeat at the hands of Heidelberg United in last week’s Community Shield.
The initial opening stanza of the game bore good signs for the newly promoted Thunder, who capitalised off a Bentleigh turnover in the 13th minute to go ahead.
Stealing the ball off the Greens just inside his own half, the Thunder’s marquee striker Brandon Barnes threaded an inch perfect ball through the Bentleigh lines to Galanopoulos, who shook off pressure from defender Jack Webster to cement his status as a trivia answer with the first goal of the 2018 season.
Four minutes later however, Dandenong’s ecstasy would turn to agony when Thunder keeper Fraser MacLaran misjudged the flight of a Greens ball forward and was adjudged to have impeded a clear goalscoring opportunity by handling it outside of the area, earning a red card.
The misery would be compounded when Bentleigh’s Hicks, formerly of the Wellington Phoenix and signed from the Melbourne Knights in the most recent offseason, curled the resulting free kick past the Thunder wall and into the goal to equal the ledger.
Thurtell then got on the end of a Blake Thompson cross in the 31st minute to put the Greens up 2-1, as the class of the 2017 grand final winners began to show.
Down a man, the Thunder struggled to create clear chances as the game wore on. A 71st-minute Sam Catherine shot was the best of their sparse opportunities.
Hatzimouratis put the cherry on the Bentleigh sundae in the 90th minute, turning in a header at the back post to secure the Greens all three points.
Speaking after the contest, Bentleigh head coach John Anastasiadis did not get carried away with celebrations, but acknowledged his pleasure at securing the win.
“It’s important that we got the three points,” he said.
“A good start is half the battle, so that was all we set out to do today.
“They were down to ten men, so we tried to get the ball moving quicker, tried to move them about a bit, get them tired and get behind them and get some chances.
“They made it hard for us and until the third goal went in our hearts were in our mouths for a little bit there, so credit to Dandenong they really fought hard.”
Anastasiadis identified areas for improvement however, noting that the mistakes that plagued his side during the 4-1 defeat to Heidelberg United last week were still present on Thursday night.
“The 4-1 defeat was a case again of us making some absolutely tragic mistakes,” he continued.
“Again, today their first goal was our mistake, we have the ball in the middle of the park, we lose it and they score.
“I don’t know what’s happened this year; we seem to be making mistakes and we get punished.
“I think it’s a mindset more than anything, it’s about being confident in your what your ability is.
“It plays such a big part when you walk out and cross that white line.
“A coach can only do as much as they can, and I take responsibility for everything no doubt about it, but when you’re on the ground and a ten-meter pass goes astray you’ve got to ask the question are you confident enough as a footballer to be on the field.”