Melbourne Victory made it four straight wins to begin season 2023 with an impressive 4-1 win away to Essendon Royals on Saturday afternoon.
Head coach Joe Palatsides made two changes to his starting XI following last week’s win against Ballarat City, as Linus Bourke and Alex Menelaou made their returns whilst Jack Pope and Nathan Stamatelos started on the bench.
A wet and windy afternoon set the scene as Victory looked to extend their perfect start to the season.
Victory almost jumped into the lead with their first attack of the game, when an early cross sent low into the box was just centimetres away from Tim Atherinos’ outstretched boot.
The game quickly became an evenly-matched affair, with the conditions and physical nature of the contest making it difficult for either side to put together an extended spell of possession.
Victory though would raise their level after 20 minutes played, led by striker Adem Duratovic who went on a wonderful solo run, using his strength to hold off an opponent before executing a superb finish into the bottom corner.
A vital goal considering the tight nature of the contest, but Duratovic was not yet satisfied.
Just two minutes later Austin Ganino showed some brilliant skill running down the left wing, combining with Franco Lino before a wicked cross sent into the box could only be palmed to the feet of Duratovic who calmly passed the ball into the back of the net.
The remainder of the half was more comfortable for Victory, with goalkeeper Ahmad Taleb commanding the penalty area whenever challenged by set pieces.
The half though ended on a sour note for Victory, and particularly Duratovic, who was forced off the field due to injury just before the break, being replaced by Tommaso Minutoli.
Nonetheless, an impressive first half display saw Victory head into the sheds with their 2-0 lead intact.
The visitors did not slow down at the start of the second 45, blitzing Essendon with two more goals in the first 10 minutes after the restart.
First a penalty was awarded following a foul on the edge of the area, which Jordi Valadon cooly converted into the bottom left corner.
Then the substitute Minutoli added his name to the list of scorers off the back of another excellent piece of play from Ganino.
Ganino showed his skill with a wonderful solo run and shot which was fired into the crossbar, leaving Minutoli best placed to easily put away the rebound.
Victory’s lead stood at 4-0 with over 30 minutes remaining, all but ensuring they would begin the season with four straight wins.
The Royals did reduce the deficit just after the hour mark as they committed bodies forward, making the scoreline 4-1.
That goal though would prove to be nothing more than a consolation, as Victory saw out the remainder of the game without further incident.
A commanding performance and result which takes Palatsides’ side to 12 points from 12 from the first month of the season, setting the team up for a strong 2023 campaign.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ post-match thoughts
On the performance:
“It was an interesting game. The pitch and the weather conditions were a bit tough.”
“Maybe the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the battle that we had.”
“It was good to see us get some reward that maybe we didn’t get in previous weeks when we created some really good chances.”
“I thought the boys did really well. I thought their commitment and their focus was really good.”
“I think we’ve played very well in all of the games so far – we were just a bit more clinical today.”
“Today was a really strong, complete performance. I was really pleased.”
On Adem Duratovic:
“Adem had a really good preseason.”
“He and Tommaso (Minutoli) are forming a really lethal partnership.”
“Today Adem was in the right place at the right time.”
“His hard work off the ball and the runs he was making were really causing Essendon a lot of problems.”
“Unfortunately just before half-time he copped a really bad corky. He was finding it hard to put any weight on his leg at all, so it only made sense that we substituted him off to make sure it didn’t get any worse.”
“We’re hoping he’ll be ready to go again very soon.”
On the conditioning of his team:
“There’s been a lot of work put into the boys in terms of their physical output.”
“The boys are looking a lot fitter and stronger at this point of the year compared to last year.”
“The conditioning coaches have done really well.”
“We didn’t know how some of the younger players in the squad would cope with the early part of the season getting used to senior football, but we’ve got a really talented group who are getting stronger every day.”
“Even if one player misses out, another one comes in and does the job we need them to do.”
“Credit to the boys for all of their hard work.”
Victory are on the road again next weekend as they head to Wembley Park to take on Box Hill United, kicking off at 3:30pm AEST on Saturday 15th April.
NPL3 Victoria 2023 Round 4
Essendon Royals 1
Melbourne Victory 4 (Duratovic 24′ 26′, Valadon 51′ (pen), Minutoli 54′)
Melbourne Victory U23s starting XI: Ahmad Taleb (GK), Linus Bourke, Josh Inserra, Ryan Lethlean (c), Franco Lino, Alex Menelaou, Adem Duratovic, Jordi Valadon, Timothy Atherinos, Austin Ganino, Noah Spaseski