Melbourne Victory suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Nunawading City on Saturday afternoon, setting up a play-off against Kingston City next week for the chance to earn promotion.
Victory made two enforced changes from last week’s XI due to suspension, with Kayne Razmovski and Nicholas Hamakiotis both earning starting berths in midfield.
Victory started the game brightly, knowing that a win would guarantee a third-place finish in the NPLM 3 table.
Victory dominated the early territory with strong spells of possession and a high press, making it difficult for Nunawading to escape their own half.
Alexander Menelaou had the first big chance of the game when he fired a shot from outside the box which thundered off the crossbar within the first 10 minutes.
Nunawading gradually settled into the game and made it a more even contest, although Victory continued to create the better chances.
The next opportunity fell to Patrick Hogan with a header after a pin-point cross from Binyam Kebede, but Hogan’s effort went just wide of the post in the 25th minute.
Despite establishing a foothold in the game, Nunawading struggled to translate their play into shots on goal.
The visitor’s first real chance came just before the 40th minute with a shot from the centre of the box, but Ahmad Taleb reacted sharply and made the save with his legs to keep the scores level.
The game seemed destined to reach half-time with the deadlock unbroken when, seemingly from nowhere, Timothy Atherinos unleashed a long-range strike which flew into the top corner, giving Taleb no chance of making the save and handing Nunawading the lead.
Heartbreak for Victory who had looked more likely to score throughout the half, but now faced an uphill battle to secure the crucial three points.
The second half would prove to be a hard-fought affair.
Victory made their move just a few minutes after half-time, bringing on James Paneras in an attempt to spark their attacking play.
Paneras and his fellow forwards threw everything at Nunawading in search of an equalising goal, but the visitors held firm in defence.
Joe Palatsides later turned to Darcy Anastovski off the bench in a bid to revive his team’s hopes in the game.
Despite the substitutions, clear-cut chances remained difficult to come by.
Victory came closest in the final 10 minutes, with several deliveries into the area wreaking havoc for the Nunawading defence.
The best chance fell to the substitute Paneras after Hogan executed a low cross from the left-hand side of the box which picked out his teammate in the middle of the area, but the shot was well saved.
In the end Victory were unable to find the equalising goal, as Nunawading came away with all three points.
The result combined with Western United’s 4-1 win over Geelong SC means Victory finish fourth on the NPLM 3 table and will contest a play-off against Kingston next week.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ post-match thoughts…
On the performance…
“I was pretty happy with the effort the boys put in. We controlled the first half completely and we had chances to score. But there was no stopping that shot from Nunawading, and it just came at a bad time one minute before half-time…second half obviously we started to tire because we were pressing high and trying to create something, but to their credit they held us out pretty well.”
On the upcoming promotion play-off…
“We knew either way we had to play a play-off game. We wanted to finish third and we talked about it before the game, but of course either way we have to play well next week and prepare well during the week. It all comes down to this game coming up.”
On Linus Bourke’s development…
“We have always earmarked Linus as someone who is really talented and has lots of potential. He has a great work ethic and is constantly improving which I think is evident in the games he has played. I thought today he was superb again.”
Victory will get their chance at promotion next week when they contest a promotion-relegation play-off against Kingston City, who finished second-bottom in the NPLM 2.
NPLM 3 Victoria 2022 Round 22
Melbourne Victory 0
Nunawading City 1 (Atherinos 45+1′)
Melbourne Victory U23s starting XI: Ahmad Taleb (gk), Linus Bourke, Matthew Bozinovski, Ryan Lethlean (c), Franco Lino, Kayne Razmovski, Alexander Menelaou, Nicholas Hamakiotis, Binyam Kebede, Patrick Hogan, Adem Duratovic
Victory’s perfect season came to an end in the final game of the regular season, losing 1-0 to Nunawading.
Victory will look to regroup ahead of their finals campaign which starts next week.