Melbourne Victory will be playing NPL2 football next season, as a hard-fought draw against Geelong SC on Saturday night sealed automatic promotion.
Head coach Joe Palatsides made three changes to his XI, as both Damien and Matt Bozinovski returned to the lineup alongside Kayne Razmovski. Noah Spaseski and Kasey Bos started on the bench, whilst Ryan Lethlean was a late out.
Victory came into the game knowing that a single point was all that was needed to guarantee a top two finish and consequently book their spot in NPL2 next season.
The hosts meanwhile were desperate for a positive result as they continued their fight for survival.
Geelong started the game with great intensity, forcing a great save from Christian Siciliano and hitting the post within the first 10 minutes.
The game though became a more even affair as Victory gradually established a foothold.
However, it was the hosts that struck first, heading home the opener from a corner just after 20 minutes played.
Geelong thought they had another a few minutes later when a curling attempt from just inside the area appeared destined for the top corner, but once again the woodwork came to Victory’s the rescue.
Geelong appeared to be in control of the game, but it was Victory who landed the next major blow.
A superb attacking move involving several players eventually saw the ball fall the way of Alex Menelaou who was arriving late in the box, before driving the ball home into the bottom corner.
A much-needed equaliser for Victory, who were able to see out the remainder of the half with the scores still level.
Palatsides’ team appeared more comfortable early on in the second half, with some of the intensity and pressing from the first 45 having dissipated.
Chances though remained at a premium for both teams as the game edged towards its conclusion.
The first substitutions were made heading into the final 20 minutes of action, as Kasey Bos and Tommaso Minutoli were brought on to replace Marc Latsis and Adem Duratovic.
Noah Spaseski was also given an opportunity in the place of Will Wilson for the last 15 minutes, as the final whistle continued to draw nearer.
The drama escalated late in the contest.
Victory appeared to have scored the winning goal when Minutoli put the ball in the back of the net with just five minutes of regulation time remaining, but the play was called back for a foul in the build-up.
Minutes later a speculative attempt from long range drew an excellent save from Siciliano diving to his left, once again keeping the scores level.
Tempers flared in the closing stages, but ultimately the final whistle brought an end to proceedings and confirmed Victory’s promotion to NPL2.
A thoroughly deserved outcome for Victory who get the reward for their highly impressive performances throughout the season.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ post-match thoughts
On achieving promotion:
“We’ve always wanted to get this done.”
“When you look back on the whole year, what we’ve achieved and how these young boys have gone about it, I couldn’t be any prouder.”
“We’ve gone out to win every game this year, and looking back on it, we’ve deserved three points in most of the games that we’ve played.”
“Real credit to the boys for what they’ve achieved.”
On the growth within the team this season:
“This group has a special comradery.”
“They’ve lived up to the standards we set right at the beginning of the season.”
“Looking back at last year, there were certain games and moments where we weren’t switched on, and that cost us promotion.”
“This year though, in the key moments when we’ve had to stand up in some really difficult games, these boys have done it.”
On looking ahead to next season:
“You don’t want to put a ceiling on any of these boys.”
“We’ve seen some players already being rewarded this season in the Australia Cup and receiving scholarships.”
“Next year will be a bigger challenge, probably against some stronger opposition.”
“I won’t put a ceiling on what they can achieve, but hopefully they will continue to develop and a few more will impress Tony Popovic so that they get an opportunity to progress to the A-League environment.”
Victory’s final away game of the season will be a trip to Wilcox Field to take on Boroondara-Carey Eagles in two weeks, kicking off at 3:00pm AEST on Sunday 13 August.
NPL3 Victoria 2023 Round 20
Geelong SC 1
Melbourne Victory 1 (Menelaou 37′)
Melbourne Victory U23s starting XI: Christian Siciliano (GK), Josh Inserra, Franco Osuru, , Kayne Razmovski, Alex Menelaou, Adem Duratovic, Tim Atherinos, Marc Latsis, Will Wilson, Damien Bozinovski, Matt Bozinovski