By Marcus Uhe
Dandenong City manager Nick Tolios has declared he does not want his side to simply “make up the numbers” in its return to the Victorian National Premier League (NPL)’s top flight in 2024.
Tolios’ men responded from relegation in 2022 in the most empathic way, winning the second division in a drama-filled night at Bulleen in August.
The step up in quality and intensity will no doubt present its challenges for the boys from Frank Holohan Soccer Complex, but Tolios does not want his players to be overawed by the task ahead.
“I want to push to try and get into the top six,” Tolios said boldly.
“I don’t think you should ever aim low, we’ve got an ambition at the club to try and get into the finals and that’s what we’ve been pushing for.
“We know we’ve got to work hard to be able to get that spot, but we’ll definitely be pushing for a top six spot if we can.”
City harnessed a ‘never say die’ attitude that carried it to success in 2023, and will look to harness that energy and the tight-knit bond within the change room into the top division.
Much of the squad that did the business in 2023 has been retained, with former A-League players including midfielder Danny Kim and striker Kenny Athiu adding quality and class.
Tolios lauded the impact of Athiu on the training pitch, a former NPL Golden Boot winner in 2017 and Melbourne Victory talisman for a handful of seasons.
“More as a leader, I think that’s been the most pleasing thing for us as a club and as a coaching staff, how vocal he’s been and helping those players, particularly in the final third,” Tolios said of Athiu.
“He’s a local boy which makes it even better.
“I think he’s happy being closer to home, everything’s just aligned nicely for him.”
2023 best and fairest winner John Hall will remain in goals and leading scorer Damian Iaconis are two that have been retained, along with captain Jack Webster, defender Jacob Alexander and midfielder George Lambradaridis, each of which were hailed as leadership keys to the team’s success last season.
Defender Stefan Brecevic and attacking midfielder Valli Cesnik have made the switch from fellow NPL clubs, while Kyan Bryant had made the trip south from the Sunshine Coast.
Goals are almost guaranteed when City take the pitch – there were only five occasions in which they didn’t find the back of the net last season, and just a single scoreless draw.
There’ll be no clamouring for the ‘underdog’ tag, as City aims to build on the progress of last season.
“The big thing for us is to stay competitive and stay in games for as long as possible because the longer we’re still in it with a chance to win, the better it is for us,” Tolios said.
“I think we’re a team that’s going to run teams down and we’re definitely going to be fit.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to underestimate us, and we won’t either; everyone’s in NPL for a reason, because they’re a strong outfit.
“You’ve just got to be prepared because anything can happen on the day.”
City’s season kicks-off at Avondale on Saturday before a first home match on Friday 16 February against Altona Magic.