Melbourne Victory’s final game of the NPL3 season ended in a 2-1 home defeat to Goulburn Valley Suns, despite a late fightback led by Alex Menelaou.
Head coach Joe Palatsides rung the changes once more for the final outing of the campaign, with six players brought into the XI including James Siekris, Josh Inserra, Matt Bozinovski, Alex Menelaou, Tim Atherinos and the debuting Daniel Lazarevski.
Victory came into the game knowing they were guaranteed to finish second on the NPL3 table, regardless of any result from the final day of the season.
GV Suns meanwhile were still hoping to pip North Sunshine Eagles to third position.
Despite the relative insignificance of the outcome, the game did not lack any intensity from the start.
However, the evenly-matched nature of the contest ensured clear-cut opportunities were difficult to come by for both teams.
Victory’s best chance of the half arose following a drilled cross from the left wing which picked out Daniel Lazarevski, but the Suns’ goalkeeper did just enough to deny the initial shot before Adem Duratovic’s follow-up was off-target.
The most significant moments of the first half arrived in the final few minutes of action, with GV Suns scoring twice to head into the break with a healthy advantage.
First a wonderful solo run from Taku Hishida opened the scoring, before a free-kick from the edge of the area found its way past everyone and into the back of the net just minutes later.
Linus Bourke was brought on for the second half as Victory looked to pose a new challenge to their opponents following the restart.
George Karvounis and Owen Mccloskey were also given opportunities after the hour mark, replacing Lazarevski and Alex Kapaklis.
The potential for a late fightback was sparked from a free-kick with just 15 minutes remaining in regulation time.
Duratovic and Alex Menelaou stood over the dead ball when Duratovic’s initial attempt was fired into the wall, however, the rebound fell into the path of Menelaou whose follow-up shot found its way through the defence and into the back of the net.
A lifeline for Victory who continued to pile on the pressure as the game neared its conclusion.
However, there was to be no late equaliser on this occasion.
Defeat to end the campaign for Victory, who nonetheless will look forward to next season in NPL2 having already secured promotion.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ post-match thoughts
Immediate reflections on the season:
“John Didulica (Director of Football) addressed the group at the end of today’s game and spoke about how proud he was of how the players have performed and their achievements throughout this year.”
“I think he summarised it perfectly.”
“The boys set the standard, both on and off the field, in terms of what a Melbourne Victory player should look like.”
“I’m really proud of them.”
On looking ahead to NPL2:
“It’s going to be more of a challenge without a doubt. The opponents are going to be of even greater quality.”
“But from our perspective, things won’t change too much.”
“We won’t change our style of play or try to be more defensive just because the opposition is stronger.”
“We believe we’re good enough to replicate our performances from this year and continue to achieve good results next year.”
“Ultimately though, our main focus is how these boys can learn and grow. So as long as we continue with the same standards and work ethic that we have displayed this season, I don’t see why we can’t achieve our goals next year as well.”
On the bigger picture:
“We’ve taken some great steps forward in the first two years we’ve been here.”
“Creating a culture which is based on our core values and principles has been a real focus. Everything else builds on that culture.”
“I think we’re on the right track.”
“We see that the young players are developing in the right way and are being rewarded by Tony Popovic for their good performances. That’s a great result for our football club.”
“I’m hoping it continues on next year and for years to come.”
NPL3 Victoria 2023 Round 22
Melbourne Victory 1 (Menelaou 76′)
GV Suns 2
Melbourne Victory U23s starting XI: James Siekris (GK), Josh Inserra, Matt Bozinovski, Alex Menelaou, Adem Duratovic (c), Tim Atherinos, Alex Gust, Alex Kapaklis, Damien Bozinovski, Kasey Bos, Daniel Lazarevski