My first real Theatre of Dreams experience — perhaps better known as McEwen Reserve — was a brilliant one.
The facilities are top-notch, as you’d expect from what was part of a $21million investment.
I’ve been to my fair share of suburban football grounds, primarily in Melbourne, and McEwen’s quality, boutique feel made for a pleasant evening under lights.
The on-field product didn’t hurt either, with a string of chances mainly at the Goulburn Valley Suns’ attacking end creating a contest pretty easy on the eye.
The attacking quartet, led by the creativity of wingers Stefan Papageorgiou and Vani Shamoon, looked capable of scoring at any moment.
But conceding two goals to a side which at times barely had a foot in the game is the more damning thing to take from the game.
Scoring three (and it could easily have been more) is great, but potentially papers over a fatal crack.
As my predecessor Adem Barolli wrote in his season wrap-up column last year, the Suns’ defence failed to make the grade.
They kept just five clean sheets in 28 games, and conceded two or more goals 15 times.
Defensive additions for the new campaign included Adam Gatcum, who has looked superb, Caleb Cullen-Rua and Robbie Rimmer, with Jordan Barrow yet to feature.
This particular take might get a few runs throughout the season, but defence could well be what holds the side back from making a true promotion push.
For the vast majority of the weekend’s clash with Nunawading City, the Suns were firmly on top, but still managed to concede two goals in the blink of an eye.
One blip on the radar and it might be an anomaly, but when it happens twice perhaps we’re talking about a pattern rather than outliers.
You have to aim for the top and coming off fourth in the East conference last season, promotion has to be the goal this year.
So let’s delve into some of the key areas the top-two sides in each NPL2 conference excelled last season and see how the Suns stack up.
Think of these as things to aim for rather than a report card on how the season has gone so far.
As they say, defence wins championships, and that’s why the NPL2’s top four teams had the four lowest amount of goals conceded last season.
Promotion contenders need to be right down around that one-goal-conceded-a-game mark — the Suns conceded 53 in 28 games, and have started the new campaign conceding four in three, while lucky to leave Langwarrin with a clean sheet.
But just as crucial is a side’s ability to defend away from home.
Adopting a defensively-minded approach on the road is key, as Moreland (seven goals conceded on the road in 14 games), Dandenong Thunder (12), Dandenong City (12) and Northcote City (14) showed.
Only one other side allowed less than 20 goals away from home — this can be what separates the men from the boys.
The two automatic promotion teams, Thunder and Northcote, made their home parks absolute fortresses.
They each won 12 of 14 home games, lost once between them and finished with goal differences of +38 and +37 — demolishing sides for fun at home creates an intimidating experience for visiting sides and breeds confidence throughout the squad.
Early signs for the Suns are mixed; a win and a loss at home with the defeat coming at the hands of the powerful Dandenong City, but four goals conceded in the span seems something to watch.
With an array of attacking quality shining through the opening three rounds, maybe the Suns are a team happy to concede two goals knowing they can score three themselves.
But how sustainable this business model is still hasn’t been determined.