For the eight remaining Victorian sides standing in the FFA Cup, the time to strike is now.
On Tuesday and Wednesday evening, clubs from across the Victorian pyramid will do battle with a spot in the Cup’s Round of 32 on the line, as well as a semifinals berth in the prestigious Dockerty Cup.
A potential meeting with A-League Champions Melbourne City, or Western United (if the latter wins its playoff tie) then may await.
And in the first of Tuesday evening’s two contests, Victorian powers will clash as Oakleigh Cannons will welcome Hellenic rivals South Melbourne to Jack Edwards Reserve
Led by former South coach Chris Taylor, the Cannons of Oakleigh enter the mid-week contest in red-hot form; winners of five of their last six games in league play and coming off the back of a 6-1 thumping of Dandenong City.
Featuring 2019 NPL Victoria Gold Medalist Joe Guest, former Perth Glory man Joe Knowles and one-time Gold Coast United attacker Chris Lucas, they sit second on the top-flight table and their 34 goals scored this season is the most in the league.
The Cannons began their trek to the Round of 32 by heading out on the road and defeating State League side Mazenod FC, before recording a neutral site 1-0 win in a much-delayed fixture with Preston Lions and downing fellow NPL Victoria side Green Gully 3-2 at Jack Edwards Reserve.
An own goal from Gully’s Luc Jeggo had the Cannons ahead early in that contest, only for Mamadi Kamara to equalise for the visitors in the 29th minute. Duelling goals between Joe Knowles and Kamara leaving the game deadlocked at two goals apiece heading into the final ten minutes, it appeared as though the game was headed for extra time.
Former Perth Glory man Aryn Williams, though, would step up for the Cannons and win it for them late: scoring in the 88th minute to set up his side’s meeting with South.
South, however, will make the trek out to Melbourne’s Southeast in much more indifferent form than their rivals.
After spending a number of weeks atop the table in 2021, coach Esteban Quintas’ side is winless in their last five league games and last week fell out of the NPL Victoria finals’ places for the first time this season.
On Saturday they were put to the sword by ninth-placed Dandenong Thunder; limping away from George Andrews Reserve after crashing to a 4-1 defeat.
South, who advanced through to the semifinals of the FFA Cup in 2017 before being eliminated 5-1 by Sydney FC, earned their way into Tuesday’s fixture by defeating NPL2 side Werribee City 6-3 in their opening Cup fixture before defeating traditional foes Melbourne Knights in a Lakeside Stadium penalty shootout.
Goals from Marco Jankovic and Lirim Elmazi then propelled Hellas past Eastern Lions in the sixth round of preliminary qualifying.
But if the Cannons are in hot form heading into their game, then Avondale FC are on absolute fire.
The Avengers will head to ABD Stadium for their meeting with Pascoe Vale on Tuesday evening buoyed by the knowledge that they haven’t lost a game since March and have won four of their last five games.
On Saturday, coach Zoran Markovski’s side welcomed then second-placed Bentleigh Greens to Avenger Park at the Reggio Calabria club and, after going down a goal early, stormed to a 3-1 victory thanks to a brace from Stefan Valentini and a strike from Yusuf Ahmed.
That win sent the 2019 NPL Victoria Runners-Up five points clear atop the NPL Victoria table after 16 games and gave them a goal difference five better than the next-best Cannons.
Eliminated in the quarter finals of the 2018 FFA Cup by Sydney FC, Avondale began their FFA Cup campaign for 2021 by putting a six-pack of goals past State League side Beaumaris SC, before downing another State League side in Yarraville FC 2-0 at B.T. Connor Reserve.
Goals from Joey Katebian, Valentini, Kristian Trajceski, Blake Carpenter and Stefan Zinni then comfortably saw them record a 5-1 win as they breezed past North Geelong Warriors down at Elcho Park in the Cup’s sixth round.
Now, attempting to halt the Avenger onslaught and become just the third side from outside the NPL1 to reach the Round of 32 is NPL2 outfit Pascoe Vale.
Seeking to return to the Victorian top-flight after being relegated at the end of the 2019 season, ‘Paco’ currently sits atop the state’s second-tier; a point clear of second-placed Brunswick and three points ahead of third-placed Kingston City (albeit with those two having a game in hand).
Undefeated in their last five games and featuring familiar names such as Atilla Ofli and Dimi Hatzimouratis, coach David Chick’s side recorded an impressive road victory over the weekend when they made the long trek to Shepparton and downed Goulburn Valley Suns 2-1 thanks to goals from Adrian Talarico and Scott Lochhead.
Paco’s Cup opponents in 2021 tell a steady tale of progression, Chick’s side defeating State League outfit Darebin United in their opening game before eliminating NPL3 side North Sunshine Eagles at the next time of asking.
They then overcame NPL2 rivals Brunswick City 2-1 at their home of CB Smith Reserve and then eliminated NPL1 side Dandenong City down at Frank Holohan Soccer Complex thanks to an Ofli brace.
Reformed in 1966 by immigrants from the town of Nižepole in the Bitola region, an unlikely win over Avondale would see Paco write another new chapter in their history by reaching the Round of 32 for the first time.
On Wednesday evening, another NPL2 side will be looking to upset the applecart and advance through to the national stages of the Cup.
And the side heading to JL Murphy Reserve to take on Port Melbourne Sharks has some form in this regard.
Moreland Zebras became the talk of the nation as they advanced through to the quarterfinals of the 2019 FFA Cup, downing FC Bulleen Lions and Mackay & Whitsundays Magpies Crusaders United before eventually being eliminated by NPL QLD outfit Brisbane Strikers.
Featuring familiar names such as Cameron Watson, Jake Barker-Daish, and 23-time Socceroo Dario Vidošić, the Zebras currently find themselves lying in the fifth position on the NPL2 Victoria table and will head into Wednesday evening’s fixture on a three-game winning run.
Just over a week after eliminating them from the Cup in the sixth round of preliminary qualifying, the Zebras downed Langwarrin SC on Friday evening: a first-half injury time striker from attacker Thomas Barforosh proving the difference.
Beyond that Cup aforementioned win over Langy, Juventus defeated State League sides Albion Rovers and Upfield SC on their way to the seventh round of preliminary qualifying as well as recording a 1-0 extra-time win over fellow NPL2 side Northcote City.
Port, for their part, will enter Wednesday evening’s game in a purple patch of their own: undefeated in their last five and a newly minted member of the NPL Victoria’s top-six.
On Sunday, coach Adam Piddick’s side headed to Churchill Reserve and dismantled St Albans Saints: goals from Lathan Dunn, Jackson Courtney-Perkins, Valentin Cesnik, and Kristopher Kioussis securing them a 4-0 win.
The Sharks started their 2021 Cup campaign with a 9-1 win over Berwick City back in April, which was then followed up with a 1-0 win over NPL2 side Manningham United Blues.
Goals from Cesnik, and Michael Eagar and a brace from Chris Duggan then steered them easily past State League side Sydenham Park.
Of course, fans of the FFA Cup will know that this meeting between the Sharks and Zebras (oh my) doesn’t represent the first occasion in which these two have clashed with a spot in the Round of 32 on the line.
Also played at JL Murphy Reserve, Port and Moreland met in the seventh round of preliminary qualifying back in 2018, with the Sharks ultimately eking out a thrilling extra-time win.
Up 2-1 with just seconds remaining, the visitors appeared set to become the first NPL2 side to ever reach the national stages from Victoria (a feat they would share with Bulleen the next year), only for a heartbreaking 94th-minute own goal from Daniel Petrov sent the game into extra time.
Jakob Williams then put the side in black and white back in front, only for Daniel Clark and Sam Smith to fire back with two goals of their own to secure the result for the hosts, who would then go on to be eliminated by APIA Leichhardt in the Round of 32.
But for fans of the Magic of the Cup, David versus Goliath and great upsets (or, alternatively, massive scorelines), all focus will be on Wednesday evening’s other fixture as State League 2 outfit Monbulk Rangers welcomes NPL Victoria powers and FFA Cup specialists Hume City to the Monbulk Regional Soccer Facility.
Currently mired in a relegation scrap at the bottom of the State League 2 South-East league, the Rangers have eliminated West Preston, Lalor United, former NSL side Mooroolbark, and FC Clifton Hill on their way to the seventh round of preliminary qualifying: riding goals from Abraham Kuol and Arash Sadeghi to record a 2-1 win in that last fixture.
They may have had some good fortune to avoid drawing an NPL side during their run, but they now find themselves just a game away from the national stages.
Winners of two games against three defeats in their last five league fixtures, the side from the Dandenong Ranges went down 4-3 to Collingwood City on Friday evening: exchanging goals with their foes until an 81st-minute strike from Collingwood’s Paul Baker but his side up for good.
There are no such league foibles for their opponents Hume, who will make the near 70km drive out to Melbourne’s East with four wins in their last five games and newfound status as the third-placed team on the NPL Victoria table.
On Saturday, coach Nick Hegarty’s side was forced to toil away for 45 frustrating minutes against Eastern Lions before they exploded in the second-stanza: former Carlisle United youth Danny Dixon netting a hattrick and former Central Coast Mariners’ attacker Josh Bingham extended his run of league games with a goal to ten as they staged a 4-0 rout.
Previous semi-finalists and quarter-finalists in the competition, Hume had a 3-0 walkover against Warragul United, before they handled State League side Frankston Pines 3-0 at ABD Stadium.
Faced with a nominally stiff test against fellow NPL1 side Bentleigh Greens in their next fixture, Hume didn’t blink: riding out a 3-0 win thanks to goals from Bingham, Theo Markelis and Andy Brennan.
On paper, the clash reads like a simple assignment for Hume -- the red-hot Cup specialist handed the lowest-ranked side in the competition with a spot in the national stages.
But the Magic of the Cup is a funny thing.
Hume is most likely going to do it comfortably… unless…