Melbourne Victory suffered a disappointing defeat at the hands of Western United on Saturday afternoon, with both goals coming against the run of play.
Victory made several exciting changes to the starting line-up, highlighted by the debuts of recent signings Ahmad Taleb and Eli Adams. Birkan Kirdar, Lleyton Brooks and Nishan Velupillay all made their return to the side.
Blustery conditions set the scene for a high-stakes contest between third and fourth on the NPLM 3 table.
A win for either side would go a long way in their respective pushes for promotion.
The wind made it difficult for either team to control the ball from the first minute, constantly throwing players off balance and denying chains of passes.
The contest was scrappy as a result, with both sides creating their best chances by pressing high up the pitch and forcing turnovers.
Debutants Taleb and Adams both looked composed whenever called into action and made solid starts to their careers in Victory colours.
Neither side could find the breakthrough in the first 45, ensuring the tension of the game remained high at the interval.
Victory came out for the second half with renewed vigour.
Immediately the home side created a couple of quality chances following some strong build-up play, as they piled the pressure on their opponents.
However, it was Western who would strike first with a sucker punch goal thanks to an unstoppable long-range effort from Yianni Panakos.
The goal galvanised Victory even further, who responded positively to falling behind by creating several guilt-edge chances.
The ball would just not go into the back of the net though, flying agonisingly wide on countless occasions.
The likes of Brooks, Velupillay and Adams all came so close to finding the crucial equalising goal.
The game was not going Victory’s way as just 15 minutes from full-time, a defensive mix-up was punished by Western’s Sabit Ngor who scored the visitors’ second goal.
Both of the goals coming after periods of Victory dominance was a harsh blow.
Western would eventually come away with all three points.
A second straight defeat for Victory which leaves them likely relying on the playoffs to earn promotion at the end of the season.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ post-match thoughts
On the result…
“It has been a disappointing two weeks results wise, so we’re not real happy. It was a big game and we knew that for the NPL season it was a great opportunity to put us in a really good position for a chance, either through the playoffs or automatic promotion, to be right up there for promotion.”
On the recent slow starts…
“We seemed to look a lot more fluent halfway through that first half. I suppose in a way that’s to be expected because there are a few of the boys who train with the A-League squad so they’re doing their pre-season and building up their fitness, so there’s probably not as much freshness when they come into a game because they haven’t played for a while.”
On the debuts of Taleb and Adams…
“From that perspective it’s nice to see good young talented players come into the team…we see Eli come into the team who is a high quality youngster, and Ahmad who I’ve know for a long period of time from our Melbourne City days, so I know they’re going to add a lot of plusses to our football club.”
A trip to Ballarat Regional Soccer Facility awaits Victory next Saturday for a match against relegation-threatened Ballarat City kicking off at 3pm AEST.
NPLM 3 Victoria 2022 Round 18
Melbourne Victory 0
Western United 2 (Panakos 53′, Ngor 76′)
Melbourne Victory U23s starting XI: Ahmad Taleb (gk), Zaydan Bello (c), Edmond Lupancu, Ryan Lethlean, Eli Adams, Birkan Kirdar, Luka Prso, Will Wilson, Lleyton Brooks, Nishan Velupillay, Adem Duratovic
Victory endured a rare scare having to come from 1-0 down at half-time to secure a 3-2 win, extending their perfect record to 18 games this season.