Melbourne Victory returned to the winners’ circle thanks to a commanding second-half display which secured a 3-0 win away to Ballarat City.
Victory again rung the changes for the lengthy away trip, with only Ryan Lethlean and Adem Duratovic surviving from last week’s starting XI. Notable inclusions to the lineup included Matthew Bozinovski at centre-back and Jake Parish in central midfield.
Victory arrived at a wet and windy Ballarat Regional Soccer Facility to take on a Ballarat City team fighting to avoid relegation.
Both sides struggled in possession early in the game, with the challenging conditions disrupting most passages of play.
Victory’s challenge was made even greater by Ballarat’s defensive setup.
The home side often left only one or two players in their forward half when out of possession, limiting the space available for Victory’s attacking moves.
Victory’s best chance of the first half came in the form of a James Paneras strike following a corner, which was pulled just wide of the post.
Otherwise, Nicholas Hamakiotis showed plenty of creative flair whilst Binyam Kebede was regularly in space on the wing.
Ballarat’s best opportunities came on the counter-attack, but the dominant centre-back pairing of Bozinovski and Ryan Lethlean managed impressively.
The game arrived at half-time with the scores still level at 0-0.
Victory came out for the second half with renewed vigour.
The opening goal finally arrived within 10 minutes of the restart, following a strong run from Kebede who fired the ball into the area where Adem Duratovic was in the right place to bundle the ball across the line.
The goal raised the intensity in the second half, with Victory energised having taken the lead whilst Ballarat were forced to go in search of an equaliser.
Victory goalkeeper Christian Siciliano made several important saves as Ballarat came close on a handful of occasions.
The visitors’ sturdy defence was eventually rewarded though as James Paneras sealed the win by scoring the second goal of the game.
The build-up was all about substitute Patrick Hogan who made a powerful run down the left wing to open up the space in the box for Paneras to strike.
Victory would add a third goal in injury time after Kebede yet again wreaked havoc with a run into the box, this time finding young substitute Nathan Stamatelos who was composed with his finish.
A crucial result for Victory who had failed to win their previous three matches.
The win means automatic promotion remains a mathematical possibility with three games remaining, although more relevantly establishes a three-point gap with Western United in fourth.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ post-match thoughts
On the performance…
“I am really pleased with the effort of the boys. It is always a tough trip to come down to Ballarat no matter where they are on the ladder. It’s wet and windy and you have to be really focused and disciplined in what you do and today I thought the boys had a steely determination.”
On making nine changes to the starting XI…
“It is always great when we give opportunities to some younger players because some of the more senior boys are unavailable. We had a really good week in training and even played a game against the A-League Men’s team where some of the boys represented the NPL team really well. Today I thought the boys stood up and walked tall.”
On the inclusion of Jake Parish…
“Jake Parish is one of those kids who is a joy to coach. He comes to training with the right attitude and always works hard and tries his best. We asked him to play a role he’s not as familiar with today and we thought he did really well. He gave us a defensive edge and was strong throughout the match.”
Victory return to Epping Stadium next Saturday 30th July to welcome North Sunshine Eagles at 3:00pm AEST.
NPLM 3 Victoria 2022 Round 19
Ballarat City 0
Melbourne Victory 3 (Duratovic 53′, Paneras 86′, Stamatelos 90+1′)
Melbourne Victory U23s starting XI: Christian Siciliano (gk), Kasper Hallam, Matthew Bozinovski, Ryan Lethlean (c), Franco Lino, Jake Parish, Nicholas Hamakiotis, Darcy Anastovski, Binyam Kebede, James Paneras, Adem Duratovic
Victory’s 11-0 win over Ballarat extended their incredible winning streak to 19 games this season and has all but secured a first place finish with three games remaining.