Round 19 of Victoria NPL action started with a local derby of sorts, with struggling Dandenong Thunder making the short trip to Kingston Heath Reserve to face a Bentleigh Greens side boasting 7 wins from their last 9 league outings. Things started as many would have anticipated, with the Greens taking an early lead on 17 minutes, via a long throw flicked on to the far post, where a lingering Matt Thurtell lay waiting to bang in his eleventh goal of the season.
After taking the early lead, and the result looking all but a certainty, the perennial Brandon Barnes had Thunder level on the hour mark, via a neat finish from outside the box, which Bentleigh keeper Ryan Scott could only parry into his goal. Minutes later, Barnes astonishingly had Thunder in the lead via a stunning 25 yard thunderbolt. It was then a case of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’, when on 77 minutes Ioannis Georgopoulos struck from almost the same spot as Barnes to put Thunder in control, and lifting Thunder out of the automatic relegation zone.
The other matchup of the night saw Dandenong City host Hume City at Frank Holohan Soccer Complex. Dandenong City, enjoying a rich vein of form since signing their trio of former A-League stars, took the lead in the 70th minute, after a flighted ball into the box from Luke Pilkington found the head of Hume defender Harry Monoghan, who unfortunately headed the ball past his own keeper to give the home side the lead. The match ended 1-0 to Dandenong, lifting them further away from the relegation zone, and within only 6 points of a finals spot.
Green Gully traveled to Avenger Park in an early Saturday afternoon kickoff to take on table topping Avondale FC. Former Gully striker Liam Boland, now plying his trade for the Avengers, gave Avondale the early lead after a solo, step-over laden run resulted in a finesse finish past Gully keeper Jerrad Tyson. Andy Brennan had things level on the stroke of half time, before Alex Salmon left it late to break Avondale’s hearts, taking advantage of a wayward Avondale pass in the 90th minute, eventually scoring the late Gully winner. The goal kept things close at the top of the race for the golden boot, with both Salmon and Boland scoring their 18th goal each, to sit tied for the prize after 19 rounds.
The comebacks continued at both Paisley Park and JL Murphy Reserve, as both Port Melbourne and Altona Magic managed to come from behind against Melbourne Knights and Kingston City, respectively. The knights, who capped off a horrible week by earning their 4th straight league defeat, were also deducted 3 competition points for poor fan behavior after the FFA Cup qualifier against South Melbourne, and now find themselves 5 points adrift of a finals place. Magic on the other hand have taken advantage of the Knights woes on and off the field, now holding onto the finals spot by 2 points over South Melbourne in 7th place.
The other Saturday tie, being Heidelberg hosting Oakleigh Cannons at the Olympic Village, was postponed due to waterlogged pitch. Details of the re-arranged fixture to be announced soon.
The final tie of the round found Pascoe Vale facing off against South Melbourne at the Lakeside stadium. Both teams came into the round desparate for 3 points, albeit for different reasons, but it was South Melbourne who took advantage through striker Guiseppe Marafioti via a clinical back post finish in the second half. South managed to hold on for the 1-0 win in a match played at a fairly slow pace, and now sit only 2 points away from a finals spot, whilst salvation at this point for Pascoe Vale looks only possible via a promotion/relegation play off.