By Lance Jenkinson
A spectacular volley from Adam Hodor has earned St Albans Saints a share of the points in a 1-1 draw on the road against Dandenong City to keep the team undefeated after two games in the National Premier League.
The newly-promoted Saints have been a breath of fresh air in the NPL, producing an attacking brand of football that has ruffled the feathers of two established clubs.
The Saints have scored five goals and yielded four points in their opening two games back in the top flight.
Saints coach Kruni Razov is thrilled with how the team has begun life in a higher division.
“If someone said before the season that we’d have four points after two rounds, I would’ve taken it with both hands,” he said.
“The boys have been fantastic.
“A home win and a very tough away trip to Dandenong City, who just missed out on the finals last year.”
Incredibly, St Albans is without a recognised striker.
The Saints only striker is new recruit Mate Barisic, who is young and learning the ropes at the level.
He will be coming off the bench for the foreseeable future.
Razov has instead gone with a bit of unpredictability up front, deploying Hodor, Anthony Poljak and captain Matthew Cundari.
“We’ve gone into the season without a natural striker,” Razov said. “We’re a bit more quicker on the counter-attack and we move the ball a bit more quicker.
“There’s probably not that much into the feet for Adam Hodor to hold up, it’s playing between the lines, playing over the shoulder and using our feet and an aggressive approach in that front third.”
The strategy is working so far for St Albans. Hodor is the one who is making it work, adapting to a new role with ease.
The Saints have prepared for the striker-less team, spending countless hours honing their crossing and cutback skills to make up for the lack of a powerful forward or a skilful striker.
Their balls into the box have been exquisite so far. A prime example was defender David Simms’ delivery for the equalising goal with his cross well weighted for Hodor to strike first time.
“We do a lot of crossing at training,” Razov said.
“Usually every Friday before a Sunday game, we spend at least half an hour to 45 minutes trying to get balls into those areas.
“David Simms put in a nice cross and he’s just hit it first time on the volley and it’s flown in.
“It was a great finish.”
The draw was the right result in the eyes of Razov.
St Albans conceded a goal to Brayden Mann just before half-time of a lacklustre first half.
The Saints were, however, the better team in the second half and thoroughly deserved their equalising goal.
“For about 25 or 30 minutes in the second half, we had Dandenong pegged back pretty much in their half at times,” Razov said.
St Albans will host a mouth-watering derby with Melbourne Knights at Churchill Reserve on Sunday at 5pm.
With no other NPL games on that day, you better get in early to secure a prime position.
“The boys are pumped and I think it will be a huge crowd, being the only Sunday NPL game of the round,” Razov said.
“We want to keep going the way we started, they probably haven’t started the way they wanted to, so it will be interesting to see how that one unfolds.”
Melbourne Knights go into the game without a win after a dramatic 3-3 draw with Dandenong Thunder at Knights Stadium on Friday night.
The Knights will be without goalkeeper Harry Cakarun, who received a red card late in the game for a last man tackle, which led to Brandon Barnes’ equalising goal in the 94th minute.
Meanwhile, Green Gully Cavaliers are licking their wounds after two losses to start the season.
After losing 2-0 to Hume City in their home opener on Friday night, the Cavs will be keen to bounce back against Avondale at Green Gully Reserve this Friday night.