151 days after Bentleigh Greens lifted the 2019 NPL Victoria Championship, Victoria’s highest tier returned on Thursday night as Oakleigh Cannons downed ten-man Avondale FC 3-1 at Jack Edwards Reserve.
Both Oakleigh and Avondale had been earmarked as potential title challengers heading into the 2020 season, the latter vanquished grand finalists a season ago and the former – under the tutelage of former title-winning South Melbourne gaffer Chris Taylor – recruiting strongly to supplement a side that reached 2019’s semi-finals and included reigning Football Victoria Gold Medallist Joe Guest.
And it was the Cannons that fired themselves ahead in just the sixth minute when Ryan Paczkowski beat Brandon Lundy to a loose outside the penalty area and fired a left-footed effort across his body and into the bottom corner of the net.
The goal punctuated what had been a somewhat sloppy opening to the contest from The Avengers, who just a day before the fixture had been slapped with heavy sanctions by Victorian football’s governing body for offences related to violations of their licensing agreement.
Adding further pain to their opening was a straight red card handed down to Stefan Zinni in the 17th minute when his wayward high boot caught Tom Mathews in the head.
“A decision like that, I thought the send-off was a bit stiff,” Taylor said post-game.
“That kind of plays into your hands, a goal up and they go down to ten. We controlled the game after that.”
The Cannons were then able to make it 2-0 just before halftime when Guest broke down the right flank and drove in a picture-perfect cross that Joe Knowles flicked onward and into the back of the net.
Despite ten-man Avondale battling to make a game of it, Guest then put the cherry on the sundae when a long free-kick by Mathews was headed on by Harry White and turned in by the Englishman in the 71st minute.
The Avengers, to their credit, were able to salvage some late pride when a corner from Tasuku Sekiya was inadvertently turned in at the near post by defender Scott Robertson.
“I think we’ve won our first game of the season for about six or seven years, so that was the aim today,” Taylor said post-game.
“We were a bit nervous before the game, but I thought I panned out well for us.