Moreland, who gave their first starts to new signings Andrew Nabbout and Anthony Scorich, struggled to create any good chances after the Thunder chalked up three in the opening half.
Luke Sherbon and Nate Foster were lethal up front with the Englishman benefiting from two assists from Foster.
Liam Kearney was also outstanding on the left wing, contributing with his side’s second goal. He and Foster provided plenty of run and pressure as Dandenong were able to hit the Zebras on the break.
The home side, coming in with the single change Matthew Theodore replacing Sean McIlroy, appeared to have regained their finishing form with the Thunder going into the half-time break with a 3-0 lead.
After the break, it was more of the same with Moreland’s midfield, lead by Grant Brebner, being allowed to pass the ball with little threat to Dandenong’s defence.
One their few attacking forays resulted in Moreland captain Carl Recchia winning a soft penalty which he calmly slotted home, early in the second half.
As Moreland coach Joe Palatsides’ side chased the game with more players moving forward and reverting to a 4-4-2 formation, after an unsuccessful stint with three centre-backs, Dandenong increasingly found more space.
Surprisingly, the Thunder could only manage one extra goal, Sherbon’s third from the penalty spot, as they peppered Griffin McMaster’s goal with numerous shots soon after Recchia’s goal.
A mismatch on paper was reflected on the pitch from the kick-off with Dandenong looking dangerous early.
The expectant George Andrews crowd got some early satisfaction five minutes in with Foster’s low cross into the path of a waiting Sherbon opening the scoring.
It was the same story after the restart, as a Foster shot crashed into the bar seconds after. Matthew Theodore also joined in with his first long-range attempt going centimetres wide.
On 14 minutes, when Kearney’s strike past McMaster made it 2-0, it was obvious that Moreland were not going to be pulling off an upset.
Sherbon’s second, after latching on to a deflected Foster pass, effectively killed the contest and perhaps knocked any remaining confidence from their opposition.
Bryan Bran’s mistimed tackle into the back of the outstanding captain presented Moreland with what turned out to be a consolation goal.
Dandenong responded well after only conceding their second goal at home all season with stacks of chances, unfortunately for the home support, a majority of those managed to stay out of the net.
However, they would could go home happy after Sherbon converted an 89th minute penalty completed his hat-trick and extended his lead in the league’s leading goal scorers after a clumsy Kole Delev challenge brought down the man himself.
Post-game, Dandenong coach Chris Taylor was delighted with the result and the spectacle.
“We looked a little like we did earlier in the season, moving the ball around well and creating many chances. The only disappointing part was the chances we missed.”
“But some the football we played would be the highlight of the Premier League.”
Moreland coach Joe Palatsides was disappointed Sherbon’s early goal disrupted his plans to play five at the back.
“I wouldn’t say it was an experiment that didn’t work out. It didn’t work because we conceded a goal after four minutes and that just throws the game plan out the window.
“We’ve had to change a few things because what we’ve been doing obviously hasn’t been working. So it’s time to change, playing the top team on the ladder and they proved that today.”
Next round, Dandenong will host Northcote City while Moreland have another difficult task when they host Green Gully.
Dandenong Thunder: Stuart WEBSTER, Andrew MULLETT, Shane REXHEPI, Craig ELVIN, Bryan BRAN, Ross THOMPSON (Shpetim MALA 74’), Liam KEARNEY, Matthew THEODORE (Sean MCILROY 90’), Iqbal JAWADI, Nate FOSTER (Veton KORCARI 90’), Luke SHERBON
Unused Subs: Zaim ZANELI, Enes SIVIC
Goals: Sherbon (4’, 41’, 89’ pen), Kearney (14’)
Yellow Cards: Mullet (35’), Webster (47’), Thompson (72’)
Moreland Zebras: Griffin MCMASTER, Chris GROSSMAN, Grant BREBNER, Carl RECCHIA, William ABBOTT (James PAPADIMITRIOU 81’), Kole DELEV, Andrew NABBOUT, Anthony SCORICH,, Daniel VASILVEVSKI (Dejan RADOJICIC 81’), Ersin KAYA, Ray LALLY (Vincent FAHERTY 70’).
Unused Subs: Nick SYMEOY, Phil PETROVSKI.
Goals: Recchia (51’ pen)
Yellow Cards: Abbott (54’), Nabbout (62’), Delev (86’)
Written by Jason Turner (FFV Website)