Avondale are marching on into the sixth round of the FFA Cup after a thoroughly entertaining 2-0 victory over the Preston Lions.
The stage was set for a blockbuster encounter at ABD Stadium, with over 1,500 people in attendance to watch the NPL’s hottest team face off against the top side from State League One.
Neither outfit had lost entering the fixture, with one side destined to endure the bitter taste of defeat for the first time this season.
Avondale were seen as heavy favourites to come away with the win, but the match loomed as an extra-tricky obstacle for the Azzuri to hurdle. Preston had already defeated NPL club Dandenong City in the previous round, and their boisterous fans were hungry for another upset.
The fixture certainly lived up to the hype early on. Despite being two divisions below their opponents, Preston came out of the blocks firing and were taking the game to a slow-looking Avondale.
The Lions weren’t backing down from the challenge and soon their home fans were celebrating a shot that they thought had found the back of the net, only to find out it had in fact only hit the side netting.
It was a strong warning sign for Avondale, Preston were looking mighty-dangerous attacking down the flanks and from set pieces.
The two sides traded chances as they both looked to utilise their pace and speed to create good opportunities, and it was Avondale who took their chance first.
Tasuku Sekiya played a delightful through-ball in behind the Preston backline to Stefan Zinni, who calmly dribbled around the keeper before slotting the ball home.
But if the Azzuri were hoping a goal would break their opponent’s spirit, they were wrong. The Lions responded with plenty of attacking intent despite falling behind, and were hammering on Avondale’s door right up to the half time break.
The physicality really started to kick up a notch when play resumed, with plenty of hefty tackles flying around. That seemed to play right into Preston’s hands and soon they had two sublime chances to equalise.
A free header from the top of the six-yard box failed to hit the target and a curling effort flew just wide of the post, letting Avondale off the hook big-time.
The Avengers, very thankful for their opponent’s wastefulness in front of goal, soon made them pay for it. Sekiya tee’d up Stefan Valentini in the middle of the box and he smashed the ball home for the second goal of the game.
Still though, Preston did not give up. Avondale were caught napping and a Lion was through on goal one-on-one with with Chris Oldfield, but the big Englishman stood his ground and made a lovely block to kill off any comeback and clinch the win.
Avondale will be happy to come away from the game injury-free and with the win as they look to continue their scorching-hot form in the league.
The Avengers will return to league action for the next few weeks before taking on the Melbourne Knights in round six of the FFA Cup at Knights stadium later this month.
By Bransen Gibson