Melbourne City’s senior NPL side was unable to spoil the Dandenong City party on Friday evening, crashing to a 3-1 defeat as Hajduk secured the NPL2 East Championship and promotion to the top tier of Victorian football in 2019.
Meeting on a chilly evening at Dandenong’s home of Frank Holohan Soccer Complex, City were forced back on their heels straight from the opening kick-off; the hosts finding the back of the net after only four minutes of play.
After a number of probing maneuvers toward the City goal following the opening, a clumsy challenge from the City defence meant that Hajduk was awarded a free kick on the right wing; the set piece positioned perfectly for a dangerous ball swung into the box.
Not getting cute with it, that’s just what Dandenong provided; the ball looping sublimely towards a pack forming at the back post.
Somehow, Luke Pilkington was able to slip away from any semblance of marking by the City defence, getting his head on the end of it and slipping the ball inside the post to give his side an early 1-0 lead.
Chances came few and far between for City in Friday’s contest, with any moves forward often let down by the final touch of class needed to put the ball in the back of the net.
This was typified in the tenth minute of the contest when Seb Kis broke down the right wing in the attack, getting the ball to the byline before cutting a dangerous ball to the top of the six-yard box. It was a cross that was begging to be put away, but, there was no finish forthcoming; City unable to get a man in the box as Dandy cleared the threat.
Dandenong was able to collect themselves after that brief moment of danger to reassert their control of the game: former Melbourne Heart man Nick Kalmar given golden opportunities in the 13th and 14th minutes to make it 2-0 but was twice unable to keep his effort down, putting both shots on goal over the bar.
Luke Duzel would have a chance on goal of his own in the 16th minute for City, but he too was unable to get the ball on target: putting his effort into the grandstand behind the Frank Holohan Soccer Complex goal.
After going into the halftime break up only 1-0, Dandenong should have doubled their margin only minutes after the restart when the ball was swung in towards Shaun Filipovic. Unable to get his close-range effort on target, the Dandenong captain kicked the goal post in frustration, the high stakes of the game clearly weighing upon his shoulders.
He only needed to wait five minutes for some of that burden to be lifted, however, when he was able to atone for his earlier error by making no mistake from another ball cut into the box, tucking it past James Delianov in the City goal to make it 2-0 to Dandenong.
Stipo Andrijasevic put the fixture beyond all doubt in the 64th minute of the contest when he made it 3-0, pouncing on a loose ball that City had been unable to properly clear and putting in a shot that Delianov was just unable to keep out.
Newly introduced substitute Sam Morrison was able to peg one back for City following some fine build-up play from Gianluca Iannucci and Yusuf Ahmed only a minute after Andrijasevic struck, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Hajduk party; the club entering party mode as they secured the NPL2 Eastern Conference title and their first ever promotion to the NPL.
The news had been better for City’s U20 sides in the evening's curtain-raiser: Peter Kratky’s side using a dominating second half to run out 5-2 winners of the U20s of Dandenong City.
Dennis Menelaou opened the scoring in the 14th minute for City, before a strike from Yaya Dukuly then made it 2-0 in the 25th minute of play. An own goal from Kye Di Marco in the 34th minute kept Dandenong in it, nevertheless, the game sitting at 2-1 headed into the half.
Jarryn Fittock brought the fixture back into balance ten minutes following the second half restart, striking for Dandenong to make it 2-2.
City quickly re-established their dominance though, Lucas Byrns netting in the 68th minute, Dandenong’s Sam Kamper inadvertently turning the ball into his own side’s net in the 75th and Giovanni Stellitano netting his tenth of the campaign in the 80th minute to secure City the points.