By Lance Jenkinson
Two star recruits stood out for Melbourne Knights in a penalty shootout victory over Sydney United in the annual Friendship Cup at Knights Stadium on Saturday.
The match was dead-locked 1-1 at full-time, but the Knights seized their advantage from the spot, winning the shootout 3-2.
Midfielder Anthony Duzel fired in the winning penalty to seal back-to-back Friendship Cup triumphs for the Knights.
Newly acquired midfielders Conor McDonald and Mathew Breeze had tongues wagging after their five-star performances for the Knights.
Knights football operations manager Mark Ivkovic said the win over Sydney United was a nice culmination to an impressive run of pre-season results that has included a massive win over Heidelberg United and Victorian Cro Cup glory.
“Sydney United is a very strong side,” Ivkovic said.
“They made the grand final in New South Wales last year and they’ve got about five former A-League players in their line-up.
“It’s probably the perfect game to lead into the opening game of the season because it’s good quality opposition and there’s a little bit of bragging rights on the line.
“It’s been a perfect dress rehearsal for round one.”
Melbourne Knights went into the half-time break a goal to the good. Winger Gian Albano produced a bit of magic to give the Knights a lead.
“It was a typical Albano goal,” Ivkovic said. “He was on the wing, beat his player, shot across the box and it came off the post and went in.”
It is Albano’s second season with the Melbourne Knights. Albano was a slow starter last season, but he grew in form and confidence the longer the season wore on.
“He was from interstate, so it was his first year in Victoria last year and he did start a little bit slow,” Ivkovic said.
“The second year in Melbourne, he knows what to expect from Victorian NPL, so hopefully he hits the ground running.”
Sydney United found an equaliser early in the second half. Try as they might, neither side could find a winner.
It came down to penalties and the Knights were the cooler from the spot. The big development to come out of the game for the Knights was the stellar performances of Breeze and McDonald in the midfield. Breeze, a former Green Gully player, was the “stand out” player on the day in Ivkovic’s mind.
McDonald, who arrived from Ireland in the pre-season, struggled to adapt to the hot weather conditions in early training sessions.
That his impressive display came on a day when the temperature nearly reached 30 degrees is a great sign. Ivkovic believes McDonald will take the NPL by storm this season.
“He’s been one of the most important signings that we made,” Ivkovic said.
The major acquisition for Melbourne Knights in the off season was coach Stuart Munro.
Munro is a long-time coach at the top level in Australia and has played at some top football clubs, including Rangers in Scotland.
“He’s added a lot of professionalism to the club that probably wasn’t there the past couple of years,” Ivkovic said.
“He’s exactly what the club needed at this point to go to the level that we want to get to.”