By Marcus Uhe
A rare indirect free-kick awarded in second-half stoppage time against new Dandenong Thunder goalkeeper Pierce Clark resulted in round-one heartbreak for Adam Piddick’s side in the opening round of the Men’s Victorian National Premier League against Hume City.
Clark was penalised for picking the ball up after a Thunder defender passed the ball back to him, with an opponent closing in to encroach his space in the 93rd minute.
Thunder players lined the goal-line and built a wall for their opponents to navigate, but it wasn’t enough to stop a thunderbolt from Lloyd Isgrove rocketing into the top right corner in the fifth and final minute of added time.
Dandenong had a chance to equalise with one of the match’s final acts, but a header from Jordan Smylie went wide of the goal face, consigning Thunder to dropping early season points at home in a 2-1 loss.
Thunder took a 1-0 lead into the break, despite the visitors doing more of the attacking in the first 45 minutes, courtesy of a savvy piece of play in the 24th minute from a recruit in his first game in Thunder red and black.
Wade Dekker swooped on an errant backwards pass from a Hume defender to his goalkeeper, and finished with his right foot, having navigated the ‘keeper with a first touch.
Hume City equalised shortly after the interval, an attacking opportunity presenting itself after an errant clearance from Mersim Memeti in the centre of defence.
Memeti’s attempt to relieve the pressure did the complete opposite, as a Hume midfielder was able to play Aamir Abdallah for a one-on-one with new Thunder shot-stopper Clark.
Clark managed to get a finger on the shot, but Abdallah’s left foot strike was too strong, levelling the scores in the 48th minute.
Neither side managed to break the deadlock for the remainder of the half until Clark’s error in the dying stages saw Hume City execute perfectly from the set piece.
Thunder next face Manningham United in Templestowe on Saturday afternoon.
Dandenong City also came up short in its first contest since returning to the competition’s top division, losing 4-3 to defending premiers Avondale at Avenger Park.
City Manager Nick Tolios, ahead of the season kicking-off, expected plenty of goals when City took to the pitch and early indications are that his expectations are right on the money.
Avondale opened the scoring from the spot in the 13th minute after defender Michael Matrinovic brought down an opponent in the box.
A long strike from Cian Cuba then doubled the advantage, shooting from outside the area and catching the City defence unaware.
Recruit Tom Giannokopoulos pegged one back in first half stoppage time, pouncing on a loose ball in the penalty area with a lethal volley after a corner, to half the deficit at the break.
Giannokopoulos was then caught out in the course of the home side’s third goal, losing his feet in a desperate challenge to stop Stefan Zinni in a one-on-one, before the attacker slid the ball past John Hall in the 66th minute.
City was forced to call on the never say die spirit that came to define them on their way to the division two championship in 2023, with their backs against the wall in the opening contest.
A successful counter attack from the home side in the 80th minute then made the assignment even more difficult, as they bagged a fourth despite Hall’s touch on the way through.
New signing Kyan Bryant responded almost immediately in a quick play from the resulting kick off, firing a shot at the near post on a tight angle to beat the opposition keeper.
Substitute Tim Atherinos then provided the goal of the afternoon in the 89th minute, with a curling long bomb over the outstretched arm of the leaping keeper, cutting the margin to just one.
City continued to press in the final stages of both regular and stoppage time in an admirable performance but was unable to find the final goal it required to pinch any points from the contest.
City will play its first home match of the campaign on Friday night against Altona Magic.