Photo: Dion Fountas

Josip Hercog

The St Albans Saints have had severe issues going forward, having problematic encounters in the front-third within the last five weeks. Five losses from six matches in all competitions, without a win is the type of form that will flip a season on its head.

As issues have arisen in the attacking third, conceding goals has also been an issue with 12 goals allowed in six games. Averaging two goals conceded per game, adds extra pressure on the attackers who haven’t been able to deliver often enough.

The five-week period started off the back of the Saints’ Round Six FFA Cup win over Geelong, in an enthralling three-two comeback win away from home. The next challenge was three nights later away from home against the Goulburn Valley Suns, in Round 15 of the NPL Two West competition.

The away trip saw the Saints concede one with the inability to recover from it, dropping three points in the one-nil loss at John McEwen Reserve. That result saw Werribee City take the top-spot on the ladder by a single point.

Round 16 meant an away trip to John Cain Memorial Park to face Northcote City, with a win enough to reclaim the lead at the top of the ladder. Unfortunately, it was another 90 minutes of football without a goal for the Saints in what was the second week in a row losing one-nil.

Luckily, league-leaders Werribee also dropped points that weekend therefore the damage wasn’t felt. An eight-day turnaround allowed for rest and recuperation whilst awaiting the reverse fixture of the biggest win of the season.

Whittlesea Ranges were defeated six-nil in Round One at Epping Stadium and were hungry for retribution at Churchill Reserve. After Michael Grgic almost found the back of the net and Ranges were brought to ten-men inside the first 40 minutes, it looked set for the Saints take over the match.

Two minutes after learning of the extra man advantage, the Saints conceded and were on the back-foot heading into the break. A minute later, a penalty was awarded for the hosts and Grgic converted.

It took the visitors just ten minutes in the second half to find the lead again, this time holding on for all three points and payback for the massive defeat back in February. This result was once again not punished as Werribee drew their match and only sat two points ahead.

17 rounds into a 28-round competition is the perfect time to start finding form and the league allowed for that, as the top-five of the ten teams in the NPL Two West competition sat within four points of each other.

Round 17 LadderPW-D-LF-AGDPts
1.Werribee City1710-4-336-18+1834
2.St Albans Saints1710-2-536-19+1732
3.North Geelong Warriors179-5-332-17+1532
4.Moreland Zebras179-4-432-21+1131
5.Moreland City179-3-533-24+930

It was at this point that the Saints had to turn their attention back to the FFA Cup, as their Round Seven clash against the Bulleen Lions arrived three nights after the clash against the Ranges.

With all the hype and potential of a spot on the national stage on the line, the Saints encountered their worst start to a football match this season as they found themselves down two-nil within the first five minutes.

The shock took its toll as Deji Omoboye’s 81st minute goal wasn’t enough to pull the Saints back into the contest, ex-Saint Josh Knight converted a final minute penalty to ensure the Lions’ progression into the FFA Cup Round of 32. This was the Saints’ fourth-straight loss in all competitions.

As that defeat spelt the end of the cup-run, it was time to focus on the league again before it slipped too far away to reach. The unique situation with the ladder only became more strenuous for all teams involved as the top-five gap of four-points became three-points after Round 18.

Round 18 Ladder PW-D-L F-A GDPts
1.Werribee City1810-4-436-19+1734
2.Moreland Zebras1810-4-435-22+1334
3.St Albans Saints1810-3-538-21+1733
4.North Geelong Warriors18 9-5-433-20+1332
5.Moreland City18 9-4-535-26 +931

Werribee saw their fourth loss of the season as they were defeated one-nil at home over Brunswick City whilst the Zebras collected three points at Elcho Park with a three-one win over the Warriors. The Saints had their own troubles at Campbell Reserve against Moreland City.

Grgic found the opener in the 18th minute to put smiles on the travelling support. Ex-Melbourne Victory midfielder Jesse Makarounas turned those smiles upside-down within a nine-minute period after the first half-hour of play.

His first in the 31st minute and second in the 39th minute saw the Saints in a familiar position, chasing the game with the clock ticking. David Stojic managed to salvage a point in the 88th minute as the Saints’ record of never beating City stayed intact.

Another eight-day turnaround awaited the Saints as they hosted the Manningham United Blues in Round 19. With the league in a very tight position a win was a must however, a three-two loss was the reality. For the match report click here.

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