NPL Wrap: Palatsides' pleased with academy progress as seniors triumph

Melbourne City’s NPL side have stretched their undefeated run to four over the weekend, defeating NPL2 Western Conference foes Brunswick City 2-1 at Dunstan Reserve.

Despite struggling to get going through the first 45, City took the lead over Brunswick just before half-time in Saturday’s contest - orchestrating a magnificent team move to transfer the ball from inside their own penalty area to the goal of the opposition through eight unanswered passes.

Moudi Najjar – who wore the captain’s armband for the fixture – would slide a brilliant first-time ball in behind the Brunswick defence for Yusuf Ahmed to run onto at the moves conclusion, Najjar getting to the byline before cutting back for Najjar to direct in with his left foot to give City the lead heading into the break.

“When we play pretty well, and we play really quickly and get into positions quickly, we’ve got the quality to be able to put moves like that together,” City head of academy and senior NPL head coach Joe Palatsides’ said

“I think the disappointment of the first half was that we didn’t put as many of those moves together like we usually do.

“The previous week we probably had one of our best games where we scored six – and it wasn’t as if the opposition wasn’t as good – we just played so well.

“On the back of that we had yesterday’s game where we were a bit slow in our movement and our ball, the way we pass the ball around and it didn’t come off as well as we would have liked. We scored a great goal, but we should have played through a few more times and then created a few more chances, which we were disappointed about.”

Brunswick would then answer back only three minutes after the second half restart; Stefan Ristic meeting a ball floated to the back post by Brunswick captain George Mcheileh with a driving left-footed volley to beat City keeper James Delianov and bring the contest back to parity.

City would dominate the half from there on out, pressing hard to grab a winner and keep pace with Eastern Conference leaders Dandenong City and Moreland City.

Nevertheless, the game appeared destined for a draw heading into the final minutes of the contest until Zac Bates, brought on as a 71st-minute substitute for Ahmed, struck in the 85th minute to secure City the three points.

Winning the ball in the middle of the park, City right-back Dylan Pierias would look up and spy Bates steaming down the left with room to run onto and slip a pass in behind the Brunswick defense.

Brunswick defender Atay Ibrahim would misjudge the path of the pass; initially moving forward in the hopes of intercepting it, before seeking to backtrack once he came to the realization that he would be unable to reach it, only to then lose his footing in the process.

This would allow Bates all the time in the world to collect the ball, advance into the penalty area and beat Brunswick keeper Sebastian Mattei to his near post with a nicely placed right-footed effort.

“Second half we made a bit of a structural change,” Palatsides’ said

“We played around with the formation just a bit, but the emphasis was more on our decisions and how quickly we make them and the way we move because we plodded around a bit in the first half.

“Most of the review on this week will be on the way we moved, the timing and the ball speed on the park.

“We made a few mistakes, but it’s good because now we’re going through a patch where we’re starting to rest some of our scholarship players – so it’s a challenge for the younger players coming through.

“We’re pleased in the sense that Dalibor Markovic made his debut as a 15-and-a-half-year-old. Tristan Patsiotis made his first full start, so we’re chopping and changing the squad as the scholarship players get a rest.

“We might go a bit younger than other years, we’ll see the kids like Patsiotis and Dalibor and Jordy Bos and Luke Duzel and probably few other 20 boys to get a chance to play.

“But they’re all considered up and coming stars of our club; we might be throwing them a bit to the deep end, but there won’t be anything about changing style of play, it’ll be about executing at a high level for them and making sure that our older boys lead accordingly to help these young boys come along.”

City’s U20 side also tasted success over the weekend, making it three wins on the bounce in their curtain-raiser to the senior NPL fixture.

Giovanni Stellitano opened the scoring for Peter Kratky’s side in the 26th minute, before Dennis Menelaou would grab a second-half brace with goals in the 51st and 87th minutes to seal City’s 3-0 win.

“It’s the youngest 20 group we’ve ever had,” Palatsides said

“Most of the boys are 2002 born – which makes them 16-years-old – so they’re giving away a bit of age and physical attributes to the opposition.

“But that’s ok because we want these kids to develop quickly. We want to make sure we protect them in the right way, but at the same time let them concentrate on executing better and quicker in the 20s competition.”

Davey van ‘t Schip’s U18 squad also had a big win in their Sunday fixture, down the U18s of top-flight NPL side Dandenong Thunder 4-2 at George Edwards Reserve.

Darcy Anastovski, Yaya Dukuly, Raphael Borges Rodrigues and Joshua Rachele all netted in the win, a triumph that stretches City’s U20s winning streak to five.

Simon Zappia and his U15 squad didn’t fare quite as well as the rest of City’s academy sides, but can hold their heads high after a highly entertaining 4-3 defeat to the Thunder.

Charbel Shamoon grabbed his tenth goal of the season in the loss, with Rhys Bozinovski and Giorgio Serdenes also on target on the day.

“We made a lot of changes this year,” Palatsides said on the U18 and U15 squads

“We had to make some late adjustments, bringing in 40 players for our 15s and 18s. Obviously, until they learn the style of play of Melbourne City and what’s expected of them, as individuals and in a team environment, it probably took a bit of time to get going.

“Even on the weekend our 15s lost 4-3 to Dandy Thunder, but they played some really good football and that’s more of what we’re wanting to see.

“The 18s are playing good football and now have put a few wins together, but let’s not forget that we play up a lot of age groups.

“Our 15s are probably a year, to a year and a half younger to most other 15s they play and our 18s are usually three years younger than the 18s the play against. To get results is one thing, we’re looking at the brand of football they play and how we can fast-track the development of these really talented players we’ve recruited.

“And now that they’re playing some good football and stringing results together as well is an added bonus. We’re looking for constant improvement and I think we’re seeing that.