Oakleigh Cannons has kicked off its NPL season in impressive fashion by defeating last year’s grand finalist Avondale, 3-1 at Jack Edwards Reserve on Thursday evening.

The adrenalin-pumped start to the game produced a high intensity, physical contest between two of the pre-season favourites clearly eager to make an early statement of intent. The first half was peppered with late tackles, and early cautions from the referee. The Cannons struck early in the 6th minute, when forward Ryan Paczkowski beat the diving Avondale keeper Chris Oldfield with his left foot shot that snuck inside the far post.

A major turning point in the match occurred when Avondale were reduced to 10 men in the 18th minute after winger Stefan Zinni received a red card for what the referee ruled a dangerous high challenge on the ball which appeared to collect Oakleigh skipper Tom Matthews. The decision was met with protests and disbelief from Avondale’s players and the bench, and certainly altered the complexion of the contest.

One of the Cannons’ five debutantes, the impressive ex Perth Glory player, Joe Knowles, doubled the Cannons lead just before the break when he headed home from a Joe Guest assist.

Gold Medal winner of last year, Guest, continued where he left off last year by capping a fine overall performance with a first time finish from a Harry White assist in the 70th minute to extend the Cannons lead to 3-0, before Avondale scored a late consolation when Cannons defender Scott Robertson headed an own goal from an Avondale corner kick.

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Notwithstanding the fact that Avondale played most of the match with 10 men, and without injured key striker Liam Boland, and were rocked on the eve of the season by hefty fines and a points penalty issued by Football Victoria (following an investigation which found that the club had breached the terms of their License), Cannons’ coach Chris Taylor was very pleased with his team’s first up performance against one of the pre-season favourites.

Speaking post match, Taylor said “I think that’s the first time the club has won the first game of the season in six or seven years. That was the aim today. We were a bit nervous before the game, but I thought it panned out well for us. I thought the decision (the send off) was a bit stiff and that kind of plays into your hands. Take nothing away from Avondale. They’re a good side and with a man down they still caused us problems. They’ll be there at the end of the season. We played young Lucas (Portelli) at the back today, who’s 19, ahead of the experienced Rama. It just shows we’re looking at the future as well. I was quite pleased with that. He had a solid game himself. It’s looking good for us. We hope to have a big season. What better way to get off to a start.”

When asked about the expectations for the team this season, Taylor responded, “I’ve come here to win silverware. That’s what the club want and that’s what the expectations are. We’ve gone close the last couple of seasons. We make our intentions fairly clear. I’m happy with the squad. We look good going forward. Just need to shore up a little bit at the back at times. We’re a young side at the back. It’s only up from here.”

He points to this year’s great array of players. “Joe (Guest) won the gold medal last year. Tyson ( Holmes) the year before. Joe Knowles for me is going to be an outstanding player in this league. Harry white works his backside off. Paczkowski scored today. We’ve got Dekker sitting on the bench. When we’re going forward, we’re not bad at all. We’re decent going forward. We’ve just got to get it right as a whole team and turn up every game.”

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South Melbourne versus Heidelberg United, and Port Melbourne versus Melbourne Knights were the Friday night matches scheduled for this weekend, whilst Bentleigh Greens host Eastern Lions at Kingston Heath on Sunday, kick off at 6.00 pm.