After spending last season handcuffed by a lengthy losing streak at the beginning of their campaign, St Albans Saints were eager to make a winning start this time around in the National Premier League Victoria 2 west.
It took the Saints seven long and arduous weeks for them to finally get in the winners’ circle last season, but it was a much quicker process this season with just 90 minutes needed for the Kruni Razov-coached side to claim their first scalp.
The Saints did it in style too, returning home with a 2-0 win over Whittlesea Ranges at Epping Stadium. They now have three consecutive home games in which to add to their flying start.
“It was frustrating last year not to get a win until round seven, so to do it early means a lot to the players and the club,” Razov said.
“A clean sheet, three points, you can’t ask for any more.
“We’re just trying to re-group and get things right again, so this is a good start.”
The off season was a test of faith for St Albans on the whole. Relegated from the top tier of the NPL, the Saints could have been tempted to make wholesale changes, but the board kept their trust in Razov.
In turn, Razov could have swung the axe on a side that battled hard but did not get the job done, but he also offered up second chances for a playing group that he believes in.
“We were happy with what we had, so we’ve only had five changes from our 20,” Razov said.
“Unfortunately the season didn’t go to plan last year, but we kept the nucleus because we thought it would work and in round one it has.”
St Albans was frustrated to go into half-time with the scores locked at nil-all.
The Saints felt that despite them being the road team, they played the more positive football.
“Whittlesea got men behind the ball very early and didn’t press us whatsoever,” Razov said.
Razov’s half-time message was to be more expansive in their play and attack through the wings.
John Lazaridis managed to stretch the Ranges’ defence wide, connect with winger Joseph Monek and Monek delivered a pinpoint cross to substitute Juso Julardzija for the opening goal in the 65th minute. Julardzija had only been on the field for three minutes and marked his return to the Saints with a goal.
He also had a hand in the second goal, playing a through ball to Rodrigo Covarrubias, who got taken down in the box.
Covarrubias stepped up from the penalty spot in the 76th minute, scoring from the rebound.
St Albans host Ballarat City in a home opener at Churchill Reserve on Saturday at 3pm.
In other results, Sunshine George Cross played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with Brunswick City in its NPL2 west season opener at Dunstan Reserve.
Calder United was victorious with a 2-1 win over South Melbourne in the FFV Women’s Community Shield on Friday night at Kingston Heath Soccer Complex.
The top-tier men’s NPL season will kick off this weekend.
Melbourne Knights will host Oakleigh Cannons at Knights Stadium on Friday at 7.30pm, while Green Gully Cavaliers will entertain Avondale an hour later at Green Gully Reserve.