Melbourne City’s senior NPL side continued to build on their recent form on Saturday, recording a 2-2 draw with fellow NPL2 Eastern Conference side Murray United.
Buoyed after taking their first point in eight weeks after a 1-1 draw with Langwarrin SC last week, City took an early 2-0 lead at the Albury-Wodonga Campus of La Trobe University when scholarship striker Moudi Najjar struck in the 18th and 30th minutes.
The hosts, however, were able to erase the deficit before the half when Tom Youngs scrambled a ball over the line after City failed to clear their lines in the 34th minute and Archie Thompson poked home after the ball fell to him at a corner in the 39th minute.
Both sides had their chances to find a winner in the second 45, but City’s sloppy play in the final third and United’s inability to make hay of their chances on the counter and from set pieces ultimately meant that points were shared.
The result means that City will, for now, remain bottom of the NPL2 Eastern Conference; a point adrift of ninth placed Springvale White Eagles. Results elsewhere, however, mean that a win against Brunswick City in round 19 could see City rise to eighth place by next week.
City continued to reload after a tumultuous mid-season of player and coaching movement, welcoming back Connor Metcalfe and Ramy Najjarine to the starting XI for the first time since their long break.
Najjar, Stefan Colakovski and Mark Karlic continued their run of starts since returning, whilst Nicholas Hatzigeorgiou returned to the side after missing the Langwarrin game.
City started the contest strongly, their early efforts highlighted in the sixth minute when they worked the ball along the deck from the right and into the centre of the park for Najjarine. In space, the winger let loose with a shot that forced a save from United keeper Abdulkerim Koc.
City followed up four minutes later when a long ball from Dalibor Markovic was knocked back into the danger area by Colakovski. Getting himself to the ball, Hatzigeorgiou teed up a long range effort that was only denied by desperate lunges from the United defence.
United had their first clear-cut chance of the game in the 16th minute when former A-League star Jade North threaded a pass through the City defence for Youngs to run onto and shoot. Looking to curl his effort around City goalkeeper Ahmad Taleb, he was just unable to bend it back enough after beating the City gloveman, the ball going out for a goal kick.
Two minutes later, however, City would make the visitors pay when Colakovski worked the ball into the middle of the park towards Hatzigeorgiou who, in turn, laid it off for Najjar. Beating two United defenders, the A-League capped prospect then let loose with an effort that beat Koc to give City the lead.
Nervy moments for City followed as United’s Aaron Midon had three chances in quick succession to restore the game to an equilibrium. His last, a close-range shot that went over the bar in the 29th minute, probably the type of should have found the back of the net.
That wastefulness would come back to haunt United just sixty seconds later when Najjar had his second.
Bursting through the defence, Najjar coolly flicked the ball over Koc in order to round the United keeper before tapping into an empty net to make it 2-0.
Firing back, United finally took one of their chances and made it 2-1 in the 34th minute when a ball floated into the area by Melkie Woldemichael, who collected the ball after City failed to properly clear their lines, was met at the back post by Youngs.
Directing it onward to goal, Youngs watched as the resulting scramble as players desperately tried altering the ball’s direction, only to wheel away in celebration – although its unclear if there was a final touch made on the ball – as the ball went over the goal line.
An inability to clear a corner then cost City five minutes later when, pouncing on a ball that dropped to him at the back post, Thompson fired home to make it 2-2.
Metcalfe would have a late chance to restore City’s lead with a header but was unable to direct the ball on target, the teams instead heading to the rooms at half time deadlocked.
United’s Zac Walker and Metcalfe exchanged duelling shots on goal in the opening stages of the first half, with Metcalfe’s spectacular scissor kick attempt in the 66th minute a shot that surely would have proved fodder for the youngster’s Instagram account had he made proper contact with the ball.
Set pieces to Najjarine and Alec Mills, the former from a free kick and the latter from a header on a corner, followed, but City was still unable to break the deadlock; their forays forward increasingly breaking down when the final, killer pass was needed.
United also remained dangerous in their phases of possession, almost turning in a corner in the 73rd minute and Youngs having a shot deflected away two minutes later.
Chances continued to arrive for both sides as the half progressed but, frustratingly, the game continued to wind down with neither side unable to find the net.
City had one, golden chance to win it in the 92nd minute when Metcalfe worked the ball to Colakovski in space on the right flank. Beginning to cut into the area, the winger then slid a ball across the pitch for Najjar, who fired off an effort that would have sealed the contest.
However, the youngster was just - just - unable to get his effort on target – the ball trickling wide.
City will return back to their new home digs at the Vento Club for Round 19 of the NPL2 Season, facing off with NPL2 Western Conference side Brunswick City at 6:00 pm.