THE exciting road ahead to the start of the Men's State League 5 season for the new kids on the block Bendigo City FC makes a stop at home this Saturday against Gisborne.
As they have done several times through the pre-season, as well as in their Australia Cup fixture against Watsonia Heights a fortnight ago, City will tackle another State League 4 side.
The results have been more than encouraging, in particular, an extra-time loss in the Australia Cup (formerly FFA Cup) against Watsonia Heights, in which City dominated proceedings for at least 70 minutes.
A pair of matches at Epsom Huntly Recreation Reserve on Saturday includes the reserves at 3pm and seniors at 5pm.
Coach Greg Thomas is expecting both another tough test for his young charges and another step in the learning curve.
"There's still a long way to go to our first competitive (State League) game I suppose, but we came up a little bit short against what was a really good side in Watsonia," he said.
"We were 2-1 up with 10 minutes to play, but with a few key injuries towards the end, for a very young and inexperienced side it caught us out. But we took a lot of positives from it.
"We dominated the game for probably 70 minutes and it was just those injuries at the end, with a couple of really crucial players having to go off, that helped them get over us in extra time.
"But as I say, there were a lot of positives to take out for us.
"For us, it was all about round one, it wasn't so much about the Australia Cup, albeit we would have loved to have gone further. But our focus is on round one in three weeks' time."
The most pressing of those injuries was to skipper Aidan Lane, who left the field late in the second half following a clash and head injury.
City conceded a goal almost straight away following Lane's exit, nullifying their 2-1 advantage.
He did not feature in extra time as the City went down 4-2, but will return to the field against Gisborne.
The move back into the senior ranks for the first time since 2017 brought it with plenty of early enthusiasm.
Thomas said his young squad had certainly capitalised on the momentum and importantly had maintained the eagerness.
"Things have come along nicely, numbers (at training) are great, a lot of players have contacted us about wanting to come in and be involved," he said.
"It's looking really positive.
"Having a really young side is a real positive for the club and really exciting for us as coaches.
"These kids have really great attitudes and are here for the right reasons and want to play the right way.
"The dedication is great."
With a few senior players unavailable this week for varying reasons, Thomas will look to offer some opportunities to some of the club's most talented under-18s and under-16s against Gisborne.
The former three-time Eaglehawk BASL championship coach expects the promotion of youth to be a familiar theme throughout the club's first foray back into the senior ranks in five years.
"If we are going to get some injuries through the year, there's no time like the present to be looking at these juniors," he said.
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