Box Hill United welcome rivals Northcote City at Wembley Park in the NPL2 opening round on Saturday, and head coach Con Karagiannidis said the occasion could not have been greater.
Northcote bagged the VPL crown in 2013 and the NPL2 (West) title in 2017 but suffered NPL relegation in 2018. They have since regrouped, with Peter Tsolakis taking the reins in October last year.
After a gritty display to finish 7th in NPL2 in 2018, Box Hill have also seen a wave of changes. New coaches Karagiannidis and his understudy Michael Calandrella have put together an exciting new-look squad.
Previewing the big first round match-up against the City of Darebin outfit, Karagiannidis said, “It’s a huge game for the club. The boys have been working extremely hard over the pre-season, and there is no doubt that we’ll be tested in that first game.
“Peter Tsolakis – a very experienced coach – has put together a very strong team. They will be a force this year, no doubt. But we are up for it. It gets no better than trying to beat one of the best teams in the league on your first round and having them at home will be a great experience for the boys and the football club.
“They (Northcote) will be a very high-tempo and good ball-playing team. They have got some exciting players all across the park, [and] there is a lot of experience in the team as well. So, it will be a challenge.”
Despite the excitement, the 48-year-old played down any unnecessary pressure, and said, “There is definitely a lot of hype and excitement about the game, [but] for us, it’s one of 28 games [in the season]. For me, it’s about making sure the boys understand the importance of the game but also that this is a process we are going through. [It’s about] getting those nerves [calmed] early and just playing football.
“Like any change, it takes time and the players definitely know that. But they are working extremely hard. There’s no excuse on Saturday, we are going out there to get the result.”
The former Pascoe Vale senior assistant coach added that home support is crucial as the boys aim to kick-off the season on the right note, “[The atmosphere] is of huge importance. We need everyone to support the club on Saturday – all our juniors, women’s, girls, boys, all our members and fans.
“They (the squad) are a fairly new group and it will be great to see the Box Hill support around them early, so that they can get that feel and understanding of what it means to play for Box Hill United SC.”