Photo: Dion Fountas

Josip Hercog

The St Albans Saints were tested in squad strength last week as three matches in eight days saw the Saints secure three of the available six points, whilst also keeping their FFA Cup run alive as Kruni Razov’s men progressed into Round Six of the Victorian Preliminary qualifiers.

Over 300 minutes of football were played over the course of the three matches with proceedings kicking off at Epping Stadium two Sunday’s ago as the Saints were dealt an early blow against Melbourne Victory’s Youth Team.

Down two-nil at the break, the Saints managed to force a comeback to eventually run away with a four-two win. Matthew Cundari pulled one back in the 55th minute, whilst Deji Omoboye netted just four minutes later to equalise.

With over an hour played and the scores level, it took a special form of desire and hunger for the Saints to steal the win. Michael Grgic netted a penalty with 20 minutes remaining on the clock and just four minutes later Joseph Monek netted a fourth and the win was secured.

In a match that became harder than it needed to be, the Saints had to quickly regroup and prepare for Eastern Lions who they would face just three nights later.

A softer week in training allowed the Saints to freshen up and face the NPL Two East league-leaders. Knights Stadium was the venue and in front of a healthy Saints support the ‘visitors’ managed to earn a one-nil lead by halftime. Grgic converted from eleven-yards in the 40th minute.

Adam Hodor managed to double that lead just before the hour-mark as the Saints’ were in the driver’s seat to cruise to victory. Holding that lead would’ve done a great amount of good for the Saints due to the massive week that was in place.

In true league-leader fashion, the Lions crawled their way back into the contest just seven minutes into the last half-hour. The Saints were unable to keep their lead as Ross Staley who was at fault for the first-half penalty, netted with only five minutes remaining of regular time to equalise.

With both teams fighting for their chance at a shot at national recognition, the tie went into extra-time as the sides couldn’t be separated.

The first 15 minutes of extra-time showcased just how hungry both teams were, as three goals were netted within five minutes.

Monek was the first to kick-off the goal shower with a 99th minute strike which sent the Saints fans into uproar. It was then Staley on the other end, just a minute later equalising for the second time. With the score at three-all, the opportunity for a hero to come to the rescue for both teams was there.

Josip Konyit was the man to take that opportunity for the Saints as a header in the 104th minute sealed the deal and ensured progression into Round Six as the Lions were unable to equalise a third time with the time that was remaining.

From Thursday to Sunday’s Round Twelve match, the training was once again light, to give the players the best chance at recovery.

Springvale White Eagles on Sunday was the final hurdle of the gruelling week. Churchill Reserve saw a fantastic attendance to the game that showed much promise.

With the visitors sitting bottom of the NPL Two West standings, they were hungry for a win that would pull them off the bottom-spot.

The visitors managed to stun everyone in attendance as they found themselves two-nil up after 20 minutes of football. This two-goal lead stood as their half-time cushion against a Saints team, who couldn’t breakdown the oppositions’ defence.

Grgic managed to stir trouble in the White Eagles defensive area as the second half progressed. A 63rd minute header made its way off Nenad Nikolic and hit the back of the net. The own-goal wasn’t enough for the hosts however, who still found themselves two-one down.

The final 25 minutes required the Saints’ to score just a single goal to continue their unbeaten home run however, it wasn’t the case as a strong defensive setup from the visitors’ denied Razov’s men the much-needed goal.

The Saints, however, now will have another tough two weeks as the schedule with cup progression intensifies. This Sunday, Round 13 will see the Saints host Box Hill at Churchill Reserve. Kick-off is scheduled for 15:00.

Round 14 will play out on Saturday, 25th May at home against Melbourne City, kick-off being at 15:00. Before the Saints travel to Stead Park on Wednesday, 29 May for their Round Six FFA Cup clash with Geelong Soccer Club. Kick-off for the cup-tie scheduled at 20:00.

The massive week will then end on the first of June, with a Round 15 clash against the Goulburn Valley Suns away from home, with kick-off for that match scheduled at 19:00.

The four upcoming matches will be played over a space of 14 days, therefore with the average of two games per week, Razov’s men will need to be at peak performance to sustain their lead at the top and keep injury free as the schedule begins to cram.

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