Football came back to suburban grounds across Melbourne over the weekend, with the return of NPL Victoria for Round 1 of 2018.
The season began on Thursday night at Kingston Heath as defending 2017 champion Bentleigh Greens put a bumpy preseason behind them to defeat newly-promoted Dandenong Thunder 3-1.
Brandon Barnes capitalised on a Bentleigh turnover and set up Zois Galanopoulos to open the scoring for the Thunder in the 13th minute before Jason Hicks, Matt Thurtell and Dimitri Hatzimouratis would bang in three unanswered for Bentleigh in the 24th, 32nd and 91st minutes to secure the three points for John Anastasiadis’ side.
Two games were played on Friday night. Melbourne Knights got new head coach Aljosa Asanovic’s tenure off to the best possible start with a 3-2 win over Oakleigh Cannons, while Avondale defeated Green Gully in a 4-3 goalsfest.
Playing in front of a fired-up home crowd at Somers Street, the Knights would go into the half time break down 1-0 thanks to an eighth-minute goal from newly signed Cannon Wade Dekker.
But much like Bentleigh the night before, the Knights would fire back with three unanswered goals.
Nikola Jurkovic scored in the 48th minute to make it 1-1, followed by the newly signed Nate Foster grabbing his first in a Knights shirt in the 63rd to give his side the lead.
There was what can only be described as bizarre goal from Kym Harris. His desperate attempt to keep the ball in play looped high in the air, fooled Cannons goalkeeper John Honos in its flight, bounced off the crossbar onto Honos’ back and then into the net to make it 3-1.
The Cannons responded with a late goal to Ryan Paczkowski in the 81st minute to give Knights fans pause, but it was ultimately not enough as Knights came away with the win.
At Green Gully Reserve, Avondale would one-up the Greens and Knights by pouring on four unanswered goals after going down 1-0.
A 10th-minute Kieran Dover strike was answered by goals from Joey Katabian, newly arrived in NPL Victoria from Brisbane Roar, Liam Boland and a brace from Kaine Shepard to leave the Avengers up 4-1 after 66 minutes of play.
Green Gully refused to die however, getting back to within one after another Dover goal in the 76th minute and a Valli Cesnik goal in the 85th, but they were ultimately unable to overhaul the visitors and come away with a point.
On Saturday, defending premiers Heidelberg United got their season off on the right foot, defeating Port Melbourne Sharks 1-0 at JL Murphy Reserve.
The lone goal of the fiery affair would come from Bergers midfielder Sean Ellis. The midfielder scored one of the rarest of footballing goals when his 19th-minute corner curled directly inside the far post without being touched.
Pascoe Vale began their 2018 campaign with a bang, defeating the newly-promoted Northcote City 4-1 at Hosken Reserve.
Remarkably, the game went into the half time break deadlocked at 0-0, before 2017 Bill Fleming Media Award winner Davey van‘t Schip, who sported a rather… interesting frosted white beard for Round 1, picked up where he left off last season to open the scoring in the 52nd minute.
Former Melbourne City academy player Gerrie Sylaidos answered for Northcote in the 59th minute, beating several Paco defenders before slotting it past Yaren Sozer, another City academy prospect, in the Paco goal to even up the contest.
From that point on it was all Pascoe Vale however, with last year’s seventh-placed finishers pouring in three goals through Philippe Bernabo-Madrid, Amir Osmancevic and Joseph Youssef to run out heavy victors and top the NPL after Round 1.
Monday night saw games played, with Kingston City spoiling the non-interim coaching debut of Hume City player-manager Nick Hegarty and the Bulleen Lions somehow escaping with a point against a visiting South Melbourne.
It rained goals at The Grange Reserve; Harvard educated and recently signed from Bulleen, Oliver White scored twice for Kingston and Atilla Ofli and Hegarty netted for Hume to leave the game hanging in the balance at 2-2 as the fixture entered its final 10 minutes.
Kingston had more left in the tank in the game’s dying moments. Nick Tolios’ side struck late through Nathan Tidmarsh and Damian Iaconis in the 84th and 94th minutes to come away with the 4-2 win.
At the Veneto Club, the Lions of FC Bulleen would, despite spending much of the game under siege by South, take the lead in the 30th minute through the newly signed Austin Wong.
Signed in the offseason from Melbourne City’s academy, Wong somehow looped a header over the top of South’s goalkeeper additon Alastair Bray in the 38th minute to give Bulleen the unlikely lead.
South pegged one back in the 59th minute through Matt Millar, however they were unable to build on it as the game ended in a 1-1 draw – Round 1’s only tie.