Melbourne City’s NPL side continued its impressive turnaround in form on Saturday; extending their unbeaten run to four weeks in holding second-placed NPL2 Eastern Conference foes FC Bulleen Lions to a 2-2 draw.
Reduced to ten men in the 40th minute when left-back Mark Karlic received a straight red-card, City nonetheless was able to take a 1-0 lead into the dressing rooms at halftime after Ramy Najjarine curled in a gorgeous left-footed effort in the 42nd minute.
But, with the one-man advantage clearly beginning to show, the scores were brought back level in the 68th minute of play when Ben Everson drove a deflected effort into the back of the net.
Fighting against the tide, City nonetheless retook the lead just five minutes later when Moudi Najjar was played in behind the Bulleen lines and slotted past opposition goalkeeper Alexander Pavlidis to make it 2-1.
Unfortunately for Head Coach Petr Kratky’s side, proceedings were not quite done and the side in maroon again brought the game back to equilibrium in the 77th minute when Everson flicked in a free kick from Phil Petreski.
Saturday marked a rare moment of luxury for Kratky and his staff: empowered to start the same XI that had secured a 5-1 victory over Brunswick City the week prior.
Ahmad Taleb started in goal for City, behind a back four of Bradley Chick, Alec Mills, Mitch Graham and Karlic. Emile Peios and Nick Hatzigeorgiou started at the base of the midfield, with Connor Metcalfe placed in front of them.
Najjar started at the tip of the spear for City, flanked by Najjarine and Stefan Colakovski.
Everson tried to set the tone early for the visiting Lions – who, despite also being based out of the Veneto Club, were the away side – when he looked up, spotted Taleb off his line in just the second minute of play and let loose with a long range bomb in an attempt to chip the keeper; only to both underpower and pull his attempt wide.
City responded by marching up the other end of the pitch and threatened the goal of Pavlidis in the fifth minute when Colakovski lofted a ball in from the left to Najjarine, with the resulting header blocked.
Firing back, Bulleen created two more convential chances in quick succession when John Kuol cut inside from the right flank and forced a save from Taleb in the sixth minute and Peter Sawan shanked an effort from the top of the area in the tenth.
Chances to Najjar and Peios soon followed for City, before Kuol just failed to put the Lions ahead in the 29th minute when he got a glancing blow to a loose ball in the penalty area that, in turn, took a faint touch before just sneaking out for a corner.
Disaster then struck for City in the 40th minute when Karlic received his marching orders after being adjudged by the referee to have lashed out whilst waiting for a corner to be delivered.
Nevertheless, City was able to rally in the face of adversity and took the lead just two minutes later when, after Chick did an exemplary job to win a 50-50 in the middle of the park, Peios fed the ball to Najjarine on the right.
Cutting inside and onto his left boot, the Young Socceroo and A-League capped player made no mistake with his resulting shot: curling it beyond the reach of a despairing Pavlidis to make it 1-0 heading into halftime.
The promising conclusion to the end of the first half, though, couldn’t mask that City was now playing with a man-down on their second-placed opponents and the pendulum of momentum had clearly swung to the visitors as the second stanza resumed.
Reverting to a 4-2-2-1 formation, City found themselves scrambling to contain the Lions, who clearly looked to shift the ball from left to right and back again in an attempt to create passing lanes through the depleted City lineup.
Kuol came close to making it 1-1 in the 54th minute of play when he burst through the City defence and hammered a shot in on target that looked to have Taleb beaten: only to watch on as the ball crashed off the post and back into play.
Josh Knight then followed with an effort across the face of goal in the 66th minute, before the City dam gave way two minutes later as Everson – who terrorized the City defence all second half – got his boot to a bouncing ball and, despite a deflection, was able to direct it into the back of the net.
Though Everson threatened to make it 2-1 for his side just two minutes later, it was City that was next able to find the back of the net when, in the 73rd minute, a throw in from Dalibor Markovic found Metcalfe.
Collecting the ball, Metcalfe threaded a pass in behind the Lions’ defence for Najjar to run onto and the City striker made no mistake as he buried an effort past Pavlidis to make it 2-1.
Everson, however, refused to let that be the end of proceedings and drew things back level once again when he made a darting run to the near post to meet a free kick stabbed into the area by Petreski; directing it onward first time and into the back of the net.
The Lions’ had once final chance to win the game in the 89th minute when Knight careened through the City defence and drove a low effort in towards the far post but Taleb proved to be up to the challenge: getting down low to fantastically keep the effort out and secure a draw for his side.
With Murray United’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Langwarrin SC in other round 20 action, the point earned against Bulleen has moved City up into seventh place on the NPL2 Eastern Conference: just one position adrift of the all-important sixth position that would secure a place in the Victorian second tier next season.
With five first team players set to depart for international duty in the coming week, City’s coming fixture against Springvale White Eagles has been postponed, meaning that City will next take the field against Box Hill United on July 21.