MATCH REPORT | Essendon Royals finish season with disappointing defeat to North Sunshine Eagles

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Essendon Royals State League 1 North-West campaign came to an end with a 2-0 defeat to North Sunshine Eagles FC on a fine Saturday at Cross Keys Reserve.

A bumper crowd packed into the home of the Royals to witness the end of another thrilling State League 1 season, with the visiting Eagles needing a win to confirm their promotion.

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The game got off to a rough start for the Royals with the Eagles being awarded a penalty in the opening five minutes which was expertly tucked away by Nick Epifano.

If not for the heroics of Essendon keeper Andre Jannesse the deficit might have been much more not long after, as the Royals shot-stopper was called into action on several occasions to keep a potent-looking Eagles outfit at bay.

Despite the slow start, the Royals grew in confidence as the half wore on.

Michael Ferrante was once again the loudest player on the park, directing traffic through midfield, while the introduction of Chris Talajic for the injured Sammy Loggozzo prompted a tactical rethink from coach Vaughan Coveny.

Talajic was an instant hit on the right wing, providing the Royals much more penetration down the flank and creating some fantastic opportunities.

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The first was a fine cross to Joel Nikolic who just couldn’t get enough of his head on the ball to direct it into the North Sunshine net.

The overlapping runs of Jamie Gazelle also created a bit of panic in the North Sunshine defence, but for all the threatening positions the Royals got into their final ball was millimetres off.

Graham Kelly was his usual troublesome self at the top of the Royals midfield, while in defence Andrew Miano and Cameron Davies found their feet and were impressively solid at the back.

The Royals went into the break just the goal down and looked to come out firing in the second, but much like the first half found a slow start costly.

The Eagles went 2-0 up through an easy finish from Ryan Dragovic following some fantastic work from the Sunshine attack down the left wing.

Essendon presses for a goal as the game wore on and got into many good areas but once again struggled to find the finishing touch.

The introductions of Davey van’t Schip and Luca Santilli provided the Royals attack with some added impetus but the Eagles defence was solid in its resistance.

With the final whistle, the North Sunshine support erupted into cheers with their promotion confirmed, whilst the Royals were left to rue another performance in which they remained competitive but struggled to make an impact on the scoreline.

The match was also Coveny’s last as senior coach, with the former New Zealand international focusing on Head of Football duties next season.

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Coveny was sombre in his reflection of the season but said he was confident the Royals would bounce back bigger and better under new head coach Vitale Ferrante next season.

“We didn't’ get off to a good start again and after 10 minutes we were 1-0 down and we had to chase the game, which has sort of been the story all year,” he said.

“In this league and especially against teams like North Sunshine, it’s so hard to get back into the game with how organised and disciplined the teams are.

“I have to credit Andre in our goal for making some really big saves early in the game to keep us in it, and overall I thought our performance was much better as the game went on.”

Coveny was also quick to congratulate North Sunshine on achieving promotion.

“I want to congratulate North Sunshine on the promotion, I think they deserved the victory today and they’ve been a top side all year so they deserve it.”

As Coveny reflected on his senior coaching spell at the Royals, he said he loved the adrenaline of matchday and being in and around the squad, even if he would have loved the results to do his side a bit more justice.

“I love the match day. It’s like being a player but you’re not anymore, so I just have to try and guide them and give them the perspective to try and learn from everything,” he said.

“I enjoyed the training and being in that team environment.

“I always take it a bit personally when the team’s not doing well, and at times I don’t think the results always did us justice.

“We were always competitive with maybe one exception, we just couldn’t make it count.

“I’ll still be around the club next season and supporting the team in whatever way I can and with the NPL coming in next year with the juniors there’s plenty to look forward to and work towards.”

In the earlier kick-off, the Royals took an important 2-1 win which could see the Essendon reserves finish as high as second on the table, depending on Banyule City’s catch-up games.

The Royals went 1-0 down to a penalty but fought back to finish the game in the lead and capture three crucial points.

The win was no less than Emmet Sheehan’s team deserved to cap off a well-fought campaign by his boys.

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