Almanac Soccer: Preston Lions v Melbourne City – A Sleeping Giant Awoken

 

Match Summary

 

 

 

19 March marked the first round of the newly formed NPL 3 and a return of Preston Lions into the National Premier League, after securing promotion from being crowned champions in Victoria’s State League 1 division of the North-West in 2019.

 

There was much hype towards this game as they were up against a resilient Melbourne City reserve team with the inclusion of a few A-League players to get in some minutes for themselves. I had to sacrifice my time covering South Melbourne’s fixture as it was playing at the same time but I was quite aware of how large Preston’s supporter base is, and with City Terrace to attend as well, I was in for a cracker of a night.

 

Upon entering BT Connor Reserve 45 minutes before kick-off, the carpark was already full and needed to find a spot a few streets away. The old school gate entry and turnstiles still stood there in maroon colour railings with brick-and-mortar ticket boxes that had endured the unpredictable Melbourne weather for many decades.

 

It is reported that about 2,500 spectators have entered, which sounds about right, but perhaps 2,470 of those were there to support Preston. With my affiliation with City Terrace and supporting Melbourne City in the A-League it did produce air of hostility in the surrounding environment as it was literally an ‘away day’ on the grounds of a heavily passionate supporter base.

 

Grandstand at full capacity

 

Fortunately, I carried my independent media pass by representing The Footy Almanac, purchased a Preston scarf to wrap around my wrist (I do have a knack for collecting local club merchandise) and off I went onto the pitch with my vest taking photos.

 

My theme for football photography, I usually cover City games on film (small enough to take into AAMI Park) and provide digital photo albums for South Melbourne. For those who love film photography, I packed a Nikon FE with a 50mm Lens with an F Stop of 1.4. The film in question is Kodak Ultramax 400.

 

Unfortunately, there were no streaming services for this game and an obvious missed opportunity. Football Victoria opted to cover the more mundane fixture between Western United Youth and Box Hill. So, without further ado in my brief observational report:

 

Melbourne City started off strongly in a more disciplined formation and build-up of play. Preston on the other hand, bearing in mind they consisted of older men with greater body stature, bullied the players off the ball most of the time and created professional fouls to derail City’s momentum.

 

Midway through the first half, City were on the counter and a cross into the box had two players tee-up in a volley of exchanges while Preston’s defence were scrambling to boot the ball out. City managed to knock the ball into the post and back of the net to take the lead. Preston have pressed on aggressively to force the ball over the line for an equalizer after a brilliant play from their winger along the goal line, nutmegging a defender to lay off pass to his teammate for a tap-in. 1-1 at Half time.

 

Melbourne City Break The Deadlock

 

Throughout the second half it was evident City’s youth team began to run out of gas after a physical battle by the boys in red and yellow. The Macedonian club’s supporter base, Preston Makedonia Ultras and Lavovi Melbourne belting out “MA – KE – DON – I – A” throughout the night encouraging their men to play on for a winner.

 

The inevitable happened. I was on the opposite end of the ground with City fans in the corner as I watched on from a distance. From what I could make out, it seemed a certain goal by the amount of Preston players up front outnumbering City’s defence. Time stood still for a moment as I read the play for the ball to roll towards an un-marked Preston striker to belt the ball into the back of the net. This happened just within minutes of full time and watched on as almost every fan let out a roar of joy and the squad ran towards the stadium to celebrate at the barrier. Pure pandemonium. Full time and the game ended 2-1 to Preston.

 

An emergency call was made as City were staring down the barrel of defeat

 

Club Spotlight

 

Formerly known as Preston Makedonia Soccer Club, Preston Lions FC were founded in 1947. The have called B.T. Connor Reserve as their home since around the time of 1980 and their highest achievement on the national stage was finishing runners up in 1987. Within the Victorian competitions, they were crown state champions four times between 1980 to 2007 and won the Dockerty Cup in 1992.

 

Their most recent prolific footballer that they have produced to represent the Socceroos and play professionally overseas would be Sasa Ognenovski. Ognenovski has a total of 116 appearances for Preston and a total of 22 caps from Australia, with a career spanning from 1997 until his eventual retirement from football in 2018.

 

During their run in the 1987 NSL season, they finished second behind APIA Leichardt from NSW by six points. This season in particular marked the return of a single league competition, abandoning the two-conference system and without hosting a play-off championship system, meaning APIA were crowned the overall national champions by finishing first in the league.

 

Searching through the archives available, I managed to find a columnist entry from Les Shorrock reporting on the fixture between Preston Makedonia and South Melbourne Hellas on Sunday 6 April, 1987. The final score resulted in a 2-1 win for Preston with 3,000 in attendance at Connor Reserve.

 

On this day, it looked as if South were favourites to win this tie after thrashing George Cross the week prior. Shorrock summarised the game with South having territorial domination throughout, but two crucial defensive errors by South swung in Preston’s favour. South keeper Laumets, who first fumbled the ball in an attempt to catch it from a corner, only to have Steve Smith poke it in during a ‘goalmouth melee’.

 

The second goal occurred early in the second half where Steve Smith and Ron Campbell played ‘a neat interchange that resulted in Campbell sending Ilioski away in acres of space behind the South defence’, his goal went straight into Laumets and between his legs to send the home fans into jubilation. South pulled one back through Charlie Egan but could not create another chance with 20 minutes left on the clock.

 

I have also found a matchday programme of the first round of the 1988 NSL Season from Preston Makedonia’s tie with South Melbourne. The game resulted in a 0-0 draw, and of course a packed crowd of 7,000 supporters were in attendance for the opening round between the two arch rivals at Connor Reserve. This matchday programme in particular consisted of a message from Preston’s president recapping the 1987 season.

 

Although accepting it was a decent result for finishing second, he has made a call-to-arms to all supporters to contribute financially to the club in anyway possible through business sponsorships and all kinds of social events. The message was clear that the committee and the president himself looks to work towards club stability over club success, where short term success in trophies means nothing if people do not look towards a long-term plan of consistent success. Jankulovski, the president, identified that Preston only needed to improve in obtaining one forward in the starting line up but could not find one in the off-season.

 

The coach at the time, some you may have known Ernie Merrick as a legendary Melbourne Victory coach, expressed his pleasure in retaining all but one player from the previous season and outlined what the squad have done in preparations for the 1988 season.

 

 

 

 

 

To view my photography album click HERE

 

To see the Soccer Action archives and Les Shorrocks pieces, click HERE

 

 

To return to the www.footyalmanac.com.au  home page click HERE

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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Comments

  1. Link to the photo album fails to work, perhaps from my own error.

    Hopefully the link below shall fix this for future readers lurking here

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=behindthelenslmr&set=a.254716982803914

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