Image: Con Deves
A former player returning as coach to oversee the rapid rise of a relative minnow club, now he finds himself mixing it (and matching it) with the big boys in the top flight. No, it’s not Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe. It’s Kingston City’s Nick Tolios.
Captaining the club in 2011 when Kingston claimed the fourth tier title, Tolios is now in his fifth year as coach, having secured Kingston’s return to the top flight after guiding the club to an NPL2 premiership in 2016.
Five games in and Kingston remain one of four undefeated sides this year.
“We’re not here to make up the numbers. We’re going to push and fight and work hard against every opposition that we face,” Tolios said after his side’s most recent win on Monday.
“We’re pushing to pick up points and that’s what we want to do nice and early. Our main aim is still the same, just to stay up in this league because we don’t want to go back down.”
In 2007 when Kingston was last in the top flight, Dean Hennessey was head coach. On Monday night, Hennessey, now coaching Hume City, found himself in the opposite dugout.
Tolios admitted it was an odd feeling coming up against a coach he had played under not long ago.
“I messaged him during the week and I said it’s a bit weird coaching against him – I never thought that would happen,” he said.
“He acknowledged tonight he said ‘congratulations, you guys deserved it.’ For me it’s an honour to get that kind of recognition from a fellow coach, especially someone that I played under.”
Key players among the Kingston squad are emerging after a bright start to the season, including the likes of Damian Iaconis, Velibor Mitrovic and Faisal Sakhizada amongst others.
“It’s an opportunity for these boys. That’s what I said to them at the start of the year, they’ve got a chance now to prove that they’re good enough to play in this league and that’s what they’re doing… Damo was strong, especially against two quality centre halves with Bran and Govan.
“Safa’s quality. That’s why we worked hard to try and get him from Dandy Thunder. People forget he’s come from a very bad injury, he missed the last four games of last year and he missed the majority of pre-season… He’s just a leader, he’s quality in the air, he’s a strong man, he’s only 26 still and he gives us so much out of the back line.”
The side’s goal-scoring form presents welcome headaches for Tolios, with Sean McIlroy also now in contention after serving a four-game suspension.
“He had a five-game [suspension] with a guilty plea which brought it down to four weeks. He’ll be ready for this cup game now which is fantastic for us.
“Sean gives you something different… he gives us a different target we can change the game around with him, we can go a little bit more direct. He’s good in the air and he’s actually got a good turn of pace. He knows it’s going to be hard, he knows he’s gotta work hard especially when the boys are winning and we’re not dropping points.”
Kingston’s next fixture is an away trip against Murray United this week in round 4 of the FFA Cup, followed by an intriguing league clash against undefeated Pascoe Vale next Friday.