First blemish, but Northcote City aren't panicking

Eight rounds into the 2013 Victorian Premier League (VPL) season and Northcote City's 100 per cent start has finally come to an end.

Eight rounds into the 2013 Victorian Premier League (VPL) season and Northcote City's 100 per cent start has finally come to an end.

Northcote City won their opening seven matches to head into Sunday's top-of-the-table clash with Bentleigh Greens on 21 points and with a goal difference of plus 21 but, after a flat second-half, the VPL leaders were denied an eighth-consecutive victory.

But despite watching his team's winning streak come to an end over the weekend, Northcote City head coach Goran Lozanovski remains impressed with his side's natural progression since they were promoted to the VPL at the end of 2009.

The ex-Socceroo and two-time NSL champion with South Melbourne has warned his players 'these sort of seasons don't happen too often', urging them to maintain their intensity throughout the campaign and ensure they win some silverware.

In Sunday's Round Eight encounter at John Cain Memorial Park in Melbourne's inner north, Northcote took an early lead through Dean Piemonte's impressive free-kick but were denied three points when Bentleigh winger Jamie De Abreu got in behind the home side's defence and set up Max Etheridge for a 71st-minute equaliser.

It was no less than Bentleigh deserved with the Greens having dominated the second half after being overrun by the VPL-leaders before the break.

Northcote failed to take advantage of their goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, which frustrated Lozanovski, although he has generally been pleased with his side's ruthlessness in the final third this season.

"We've been harping on about being clinical from last season and this year we've been putting away our chances a lot earlier than compared to last season," Lozanovski said on Tuesday.

"So we've done that well and as the weeks go on, it's going to be tougher and tougher because, obviously, people do tend to come out and watch you play...and I suppose you've got to come up to that next challenge of how do you get around it."

Piemonte's curling free-kick into the top corner against Bentleigh was Northcote's 25th goal of the season at an average of just over three goals per match, while Lozanovski's team have a five-point gap on second-placed Bentleigh.

"You've probably got to win around 11 or 12 games to confirm that finals spot," Lozanovski said.

"So, you know, we're not far away from that and our challenge in our next month is to try and get as many wins as we possibly can.

"In the end, if we can say by mid-season we're pretty much guaranteed to play finals, I think would be a massive achievement."

That achievement will not be easy as Northcote must play reigning champions Dandenong Thunder and third-placed South Melbourne in their next two VPL fixtures.

But Lozanovski does not want to stop there and has reminded his young squad of the opportunity they have this season to be crowned either Premiers, for finishing top of the table over 22 rounds, or Champions for winning the grand final.

"These sort of seasons don't happen too often and you've got to make the most of them and jump at them and make sure you get something out of this season," the former midfielder said.

Northcote have finished fifth, sixth and fifth in their three seasons in the VPL since winning Victoria's State League One in 2009.

The northern suburbs club started their current VPL stint under Peter Tsolakis, who employed Lozanovski as an assistant coach in 2011 before the latter took over the lead job last year.

Having brought in the likes of South Australian winger Evan Kounavelis and full-back Tremayne Sadler from Queensland, plus luring Victorian midfielder Rashid Mahazi to the club after his stint with Argentine club Independiente, Lozanovski believes Northcote's fine form in 2013 has been a natural progression from previous VPL campaigns as he strengthens the squad.

Lozanovski does not believe he can make a call on whether any of his players could earn A-League contracts, claiming it all comes down to what individual coaches want, although he believes most of his squad deserve a chance.

But when pressed to pick a stand-out player, Lozanovski quickly points to his captain and central defender Adrian Chiappeta.

"Adrian Chiappeta has really evolved as a leader since I've come to the club...and he's really stepped up now and taken over as the captain," Lozanovski said.

"This year he's evolved to become a lot more mature, a lot more consistent and I'm hoping he gets a look in the A-League next season."

Northcote's next challenge will be a Round of 16 clash with South Melbourne in the FFV State Knockout Cup on June 10 before they travel to Dandenong to take on the Thunder five days later in the VPL.

Image courtesy Melbourne Knights