National Youth League: Season 4 (2011 - 2012 Season)
Round 18 (last round) Review
By Zee Ko

NYL Review: 'Welcome to the Nakic Show'
(Zee Ko was pitch side as Melbourne Victory produced what was probably their most polished performance this year, to close out the season.)

It was billed as Jake Nakic's first run out in the Youths this season after a long injury layoff, the lanky central midfielder appearing on the Victory bench for the last game of the club's NYL season, but it was brother Adam who stole the show with a superlative performance in central defence.

It was one of many subplots on the day, along with uncertainty over who would be returning to the side next season and whether the league's former whipping boys would manage to do what was inconceivable at the start of 2012 - overhaul AIS and avoid the dreaded last spot in the table.

Perth Glory's visit to Cheltenham was almost an afterthought, the second placed team's own quest to overtake leaders Central Coast of little relevance to the local population.

It cannot be emphasised enough the change in attitudes amongst the Victory team since the start of the new year. Results have improved and that always brings confidence into the equation, but there was something more at play, a quiet satisfaction and belief in coach Darren Davies's methods.

All through a difficult first half of the season, the young team drilled the basics over and over again as Davies demanded they learn to play the ball on the ground and from the back. The team would turn up on match day against larger and older teams and mentally already be a goal or two down before the match had even kicked off. More often than not, it was soon a matter of how many goals they would concede rather than whether they could actually match their opponents.

But that was three months and an eternity ago. Uncomfortable murmurs about how badly the youth team must be doing to stay on zero points at the halfway mark of the season have given way to a renewed optimism for the future. Basic drills have been exchanged for dead ball manoeuvres and the new attacking tactics for the playbook. A match up between the second placed and the bottom team in the league was suddenly looking very much even.

Both teams had stocked up on senior players for the game, with Rodrigo Vargas, Tando Velaphi, Danny Allsopp and Diogo Ferreira lining up for Melbourne, while Scott Neville, Josh Mitchell, Todd Howarth and Tommy Amphlett were the overage players for Perth.

Davies had rung the changes within the starting line-up too, with Nicholas Ansell shunted onto the right to make way for Adam Nakic and Damir 'Dado' Lokvancic taking on the captaincy in the middle of the park following Jimmy Jeggo's promotion to the senior setup.

A sparse crowd had turned up to watch the two sides do battle, no doubt due to the unusually early kick-off time (11am on a Sunday) but the lads on the pitch didn't seem to mind in the least. The opening exchanges were fast and furious, with Perth's strange decision to back off on the wings affording the rampaging Victory wingers plenty of space. Hernan Espindola and Luke O'Dea were given opportunity after opportunity to drive up the wing and cut in, the visiting defenders loathe to lay a finger on them for some strange reason.

Adam Taggart was the lone striker up front for Perth Glory on this fine day, with the visitors preferring to pack the midfield and overwhelm the opposition. The young forward has already signed terms with Newcastle Jets for next season and true to prematch predictions, was seeing plenty of the ball. However, Tando Velaphi was in imperious form in goal, comfortably dealing with whatever the Perth attack threw at him. Ante Covic has been a revelation for the senior side this season, and Velaphi has not had much of a sniff since returning from his long term injury, but if his appearances for the Youths this season are anything to go by, Covic might just have an almighty fight on his hands if he does sign an extended deal.

James Riccobene was working double shifts on the left flank as the Glory finally found their feet, but some good work from the flame-haired left back kept the attackers at bay. As the match see-sawed from one end the other, the visitor's decision to back off on the flanks seemed suicidal but for poor end products from the Victory wingers.

The opening goal finally came in the 37th minute as Dado Lokvancic whipped in a free kick from the left. The reflexes honed during the week's set piece training must have kicked in, as Luke O'Dea pounced first with a glancing header to send the ball beyond the goalkeeper and nestling into the far side of the net. One nil to the Victory!

The second half saw the team from Western Australia play with more conviction, but some resolute defending from the Victory lads held them comfortably at bay. Perth captain Sam Mitchinson was reduced to optimistic shots from range, but there was no way Velaphi was going to bear any gifts today. The introduction of Ndumba Makeche injected some much needed attacking impetus to the visiting team, with his bulldozing runs up the pitch troubling the Victory defenders, but they might have been better served if he had started the game.

Victory responded by throwing on their own trio of substitutes, with Jake Nakic finally entering the fray alongside Jimmy's brother Luc Jeggo. The elder Nakic showed some good touches in midfield alongside Lokvancic, towering head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Lokvancic too was having a fine day in the office apart from one or two overhit passes. His transformation from a striker who does not make enough runs to a swashbuckling central midfielder looks to have paid off in spades. His ability to kill the ball in an instant and turn on a dime was evident today, and his assist will have done wonders for his confidence. Luc Jeggo did enough in his cameo appearance too, nimbly skipping past tackles while playing out of position on the wing.

The overworked Adam Taggart fought a lone battle up front for most of the match, but for once the Victory defence looked in no danger of being breached. Any danger was quickly swept away by Roddy Vargas or Adam Nakic, while Velaphi held the fort firm behind them. On those grounds alone, Melbourne Victory Youths might just have left their best performance for last as they closed out the match and the season in fine form. Whatever happens within the senior setup, Darren Davies will hope to keep the young core together and make even bigger strides next season. The youth team is in good hands.

Man of the Match: Adam Nakic

The young defender has improved in leaps and bounds since making the move from the VPL. With Nick Ansell moved to the flank today, the younger Nakic was given the chance to show his mettle at centre back and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Popped up at vital moments as the Perth attack came screeching to a virtual stop everytime they came within range of his defensive area.

Melbourne Victory Verdict:

Hernan Espindola terrorised the Perth defence in the first half, aided by some sound defensive work in behind by James Riccobene. Dado Lokvancic once again showed his ability when called upon to lead the team, while Luc Jeggo was all class when brought on in an unfamiliar position.

Perth Glory Verdict:

Adam Taggart showed why the Jets have snapped him up for next season even though he didn't manage to notch a goal today. Attempted an audacious spinning mid-air kick in the second half that left him looking silly on his bum, but got up and continued making an impact to his credit. Sam Mitchinson tried manfully to drag his team back into the match for most of the game, while Lewis Italiano was solid in between the sticks after letting in the first goal. Last but not least, Ndumba Makeche displayed his battering ram abilities allied with attacking flair in the last half an hour.

Crowd Watch:

For once, the match kicked off before noon, and crowd numbers plunged to new depths as a result. The uncertain weather, with dark clouds lurking overhead despite plenty of sunshine, might have kept some away, but there seemed to be more people behind the clubhouse watching four teams of younger boys having a kick about compared to the turnout in the stands.

By Zee Ko- match report and photos from Kingston Heath Soccer Complex, Sunday 4 March, 2012

Details: National Youth-League, Round 18 (last round):

2 Mar - 4:00pm - Gold Coast United FC Vs Brisbane Roar FC - Owen Park, Southport - not played, tba
2 Mar - 5:00pm - Central Coast Mariners Vs Sydney FC - Pluim Park, Lisarow - washed out, tba

3 Mar - 2:00pm - Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) 1 - Adelaide United FC 4 - AIS Athletics Track, Canberra

4 Mar - 11:00am - Melbourne Victory FC 1 - Perth Glory FC 0 - Kingston Heath, Cheltenham
4 Mar - 4:30pm - Newcastle Jets FC 2 - Melbourne Heart FC 3 - Adamstown Oval, Newcastle

Click here for Final league table NYL Season 4


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