Image: Mark Avellino
Northcote City were minutes away from dropping points for a third consecutive game before a late flurry ensured the West leaders kept their distance from Moreland Zebras, who continue their recent good form. East leaders couldn’t repeat the dose, held to a scoreless draw by Brunswick to allow Dandenong Thunder to make up ground. Elsewhere, after defeat to Springvale White Eagles, Bendigo City can’t mathematically avoid relegation, bound to finish last in the West in 2017.
Northcote secured a dramatic come-from-behind win to defeat Melbourne City Youth 3-2 at John Cain Memorial Reserve to maintain their lead at the top of the NPL2 West standings. Former City defender Tomislav Fadljevic gave Zeljko Kuzman’s men the perfect start with a goal six minutes into the contest only for Nathaniel Atkinson to level the scoring before the break. Austin Wong gave the youngsters the lead in the 83rd minute only for Welshman Adam Wright to equalise two minutes later. A goal from right-back George Stavridis in the last minute of the game handed Hercules the win. In related news, Northcote goalkeeper Griffin McMaster has announced his retirement, with the 34-year-old cult figure calling the likes of Oakleigh Cannons, Heidelberg United and Bulleen Lions home in recent years in addition to his time in the A-League with the Brisbane Roar.
Nearby, the Moreland Zebras continued to apply the pressure on Hercules as they recorded a 3-1 victory over the Goulburn Valley Suns at CB Smith Reserve. Goals to Nick Niagioran, Mohamed Habib and Regsan Watkins secured the three points while Lewis Coyle’s late goal for the Suns was mere consolation for the away side.
Down the road at Dunstan Reserve, Brunswick City held a depleted Dandenong City to a scoreless draw, ending the visitors’ run of 10 consecutive wins in a frustrating afternoon for Stuart Munro’s men.
Hajduk’s draw proved to be Dandenong Thunder’s gain after Gianfranco Impellizzeri’s side dismantled Werribee City 5-1 at George Andrews Reserve. Goals to Veton Korcari and Adam Centofanti had the hosts two goals to the good going into the half-time break. A fluid team move ended with Samuel Catherine scoring from range before Korcari latched onto a spill by Bees goalkeeper Thomas Dunn to round off his brace. Papua New Guinea international George Slefendorfas reduced the deficit with a sensational free-kick only for an uncharacteristically goal-shy Brandon Barnes to tee up substitute Kristian Sarkies for a fifth late on as the 2012 VPL Champions crept to within three points of their city rivals.
The Eastern Lions secured a much-needed three points after upsetting Moreland City 4-3 at Campbell Reserve despite the hosts’ best efforts to claw themselves back into it in the second half. An early Chris Droutsas penalty had the Lions in front before striker Philip Ajao doubled their lead with a well-taken strike afterwards. Shaun Kenny made it three before the break only for Trent Rixon to grab a goal back on the hour mark via a trademark header. Ziggy Razuki’s drive from just outside the box restored Eastern’s three-goal advantage as strikes from Sean Sacco and Apai Ukuno carried little meaning in the end for the hosts who lost sight of the Zebras in second place.
Murray United secured just their second home win of the season to move into fourth on the NPL2 East standings after a 3-1 win over a struggling Whittlesea Ranges side. United player-coach James Coutts opened the scoring in the 37th minute only for Danny Charalambous to equalise six minutes later. Former Dandenong City duo Gonzalo Freddi and Halil Gur combined to edge the border outfit in front 16 minutes from time, with the latter scoring his first goal for United. Freddi had a chance to seal the win in the dying seconds of injury time but saw his effort saved, only for the referee to order a re-take which was converted by Archie Thompson to the protests of the visitors’ players and coaching staff, with Naum Sekulovski sent off in the process.
An extraordinary five goals in 17 first-half minutes from Melbourne Victory Youth saw the home side defeat Box Hill United 6-3 at Epping Stadium. Attacker Nicholas Sette netted a hat-trick while further goals from forwards Nuh Sehavdic and Aleks Stanisavljevic and another from ex-Joeys international John Vakirtzis rounded the scoring for Gareth Naven’s young chargers. For United, small consolation can be taken from the fact that Todd Dekker netted his 15th goal from 21 games while Ryan Go’s 42nd minute strike and a late own goal from Victory defender Ben Carrigan put some respectability into the scoreline.
Two goals in the space of a minute saw a share of the spoils split between Sunshine George Cross and Richmond at Chaplin Reserve. Japanese import Yosuke Saito scored his third goal in five starts for the Georgies following his mid-season move from the Essendon Royals, before former Green Gully midfielder Dion Paola levelled a minute later to ensure parity as Brian Vanega’s side kept themselves one point above the drop.
Springvale secured their second consecutive 3-1 win over Bendigo City at White Eagles Stadium and relegated their regional opponents in the process. American forward Asa Kryst handed the visitors a surprise lead in the 35th minute following a successful penalty only for two goals in two minutes from Gavin de Niese and Jerry Karpeh to see Zeljko Popovic’s men head into the interval with the lead. Damir Stoilovic’s ninth goal of the campaign mid-way through the second half concluded the scoring. Bendigo City’s senior team is set to be relegated per official documentation released by FFV in December 2016. The NPL 2 Relegation/State League promotion framework was released after extensive consultation between FFV and clubs.
In the weekend’s final game on Sunday, Nunawading City defeated Ballarat City 3-1 at Mahoneys Reserve with two defenders finding themselves on the scoresheet. Jarrod Del Monaco opened the scoring for the hosts a minute before the break only for Red Devils midfielder Liam Harding to level proceedings in the 64th minute. Liberian international Patrick Gerhardt restored Nuna’s advantage with a screamer before Nepalese international Jagajeet Shrestha wrapped up the victory in injury time having come off the bench to net his maiden goal for his new employers since making the mid-season switch from Sunshine.