Melbourne City will return from one of the longest away days in Victorian football with a point after twice coming from behind to secure a two all draw with Murray United.on Saturday.
Despite coming out of the game with a point, the encounter could not have started any worse for City when they found themselves down one goal to nil after only 90 seconds.
United forced a turnover, stealing the ball on the halfway line as City looked to work the ball forward following a long clearance by United goalkeeper Abdulkerim Koc.
They then broke down the left flank through Gonzalo Freddi - who signed from Richmond SC 1953 during the mid-season transfer window.
Working his way to the by-line, the Argentine striker cut the ball back to the top of the area, finding the feet of midfielder Zac Walker.
Walker had time to push the ball onto his left and proceeded to fire past a diving Yaren Sozer in the City goal to put the border side ahead by one before many fans had even made their way to their seats.
Perhaps woken by the less than hospitable welcome by the hosts, City were spurned into action, pressing hard for an equalizer.
Their would bear fruit on 11 minutes when right back Kobe Timms played a ball through to Lucas Derrick, who returned to the starting line-up after coming on as a substitute against Richmond.
Running hard, Derrick then played a bouncing ball in the direction of Marko Delic, who had found a small area of space at the top of the penalty area.
Controlling the ball on the half volley with his back to goal, the striker turned beautifully - completely nullifying Murray United defender Halil Gur - and poked the ball past Koc to level the scores.
No chance for City to build on the goal would be offered however, as Murray United again struck soon after a kick-off to retake the lead a minute later.
James Coutts stepped up to take a free kick won on the right wing for United - floating a long ball towards the far post.
Rising to meet it with his head was United defender Alexander West - the tall central defender having pressed forward in anticipation of a heading opportunity - and his effort looped over the top of Sozer to give the game it’s third goal in 12 minutes and reimbue United with the lead.
On the second goal, City coach Lachlan Armstrong noted that it came from a set piece, a theme in goals City have conceded in recent times:
“I’d probably say that set piece goals against us are a bit of a theme and that’s something that we have to work on and I’ve got no doubts that opposition teams fancy their chances against us from set pieces – so we need to continue to work on that”
The goal, coming so soon after they had gotten back to level pegging, deflated the young City side.
They found themselves under siege for much of the rest of the first half, absorbing a massive amount of pressure as United’s Freddi, Coutts and offseason marquee addition Archie Thompson constantly probed the City defence, looking to break it down and add a third.
Also looking particularly dangerous was United winger Lewis Greenwood, who engaged in a battle with Timms for much of the first half, often putting long balls into the box that gave the City defence pause.
City coach Armstrong noted that his young side seemed flat in the first half:
“Today I thought in the first half our performance was down and we seemed to be pretty flat. Our ball movement was slow our actually movements ourselves seemed to be pretty slow. Whether you put the down to the long trip and the long day just standing around and sitting around – because that’s the third time [Conceding an early goal away to Murray United] that’s happened to us on this journey.”
“Their tails were up when they score so early so we had to work a little bit harder to try and get back into the game”
However despite the pressure, City hung on, going into the break with only a one goal deficit to make up for.
Perhaps driven by a desire to avoid the same fate that had struck them after the opening kick-off, City came out with a greater sense of urgency after the restart, creating chances for Josh Cavallo, Timms, Jaiden Madafferi and Gerrie Sylaidos in the first 20 minutes of the half.
United, being outplayed, looked to return fire in the form of former A League superstar Thompson.
The former Melbourne Victory legend got on the end of a long looping ball played over the top of the City defence in the 64th minute, finding space in the right side of the penalty area.
Despite finding himself on an acute angle, the former Socceroo was able to blast a shot goalward and only a fine save from Sozer prevented City from falling behind 3-1.
City, whose strong second half performance stood in stark contrast to their sluggish first half, rose to this challenge.
On 68 minutes it was Ali Eyigun, playing as a number six after he replaced Anthony Theodoropoulos in the 58th minute, who found Derrick screaming down the left wing.
Derrick’s cross found Delic in the penalty area, but his low effort was saved by Koc and eventually scrambled away by the United defence.
As the second half continued, the momentum increasingly swung in favour of City, and a feeling was in the air that it was just a matter of when, not if, they would grab an equaliser.
That moment finally came in the 76th minute when Derrick, making yet another penetrating run down the left wing, was brought down by United right back Munyaradzi Ruparanganda just inside the penalty area.
Eyigun, City’s dead ball specialist, stepped up to take the penalty and blasted it into the top right corner to make it 2-2 and give City all the momentum for the last 15 minutes of the clash.
Pressing hard, City were unable to make another breakthrough that would seal the three points, and their frustration saw Stefan Colakovski and Eyigun both get booked for off the ball incidents.
The game would eventually finish as a two all draw, City having come back from a one goal deficit twice for the second week in a row and also maintaining their four-point buffer over United in third position on the NPL2 Easter Conference table.
After the game, Armstrong praised the work of Eyigun in his return to the side:
“I thought Ali made a really big difference coming on as a six and really ran the show for us, he got lots of ball and moved it quick.”
City will begin a stretch of four straight home games next week when they host league leaders Dandenong City in a game that will be vital if City still maintain any hope of catching the Dandenong side at the top of the table.
Earlier in the day City’s top of the table U20 side continued its run of excellent form. Coach Paddy Kisnorbo’s side securing a 3-1 win over Murray United’s U20 side to stretch their unbeaten run to 10 games.
Murray United 2 (Walker 1’, West 12’)
Melbourne City 2 (Delic 11’, Eyigun 76') -