Second half goals from Bruce Kamau and Nicolas Colazo helped a youthful Melbourne City side fight back from a half time deficit to earn a 2-2 draw in an entertaining contest at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
With squad depth tested due to injury and suspension, Michael Valkanis made eight changes to the starting line-up, which started well against a similarly-revamped Roar side riding the momentum of a midweek Asian Champions League Play-off win in Shanghai.
Despite dominating the early chances, City fell behind to a Jamie Maclaren penalty in the 34th minute before the Roar striker scored again on the stroke of half time to hand the away side a 2-0 buffer at the break.
City rallied after the break, with a tidy Kamau near-post finish and emphatic Colazo penalty ensuring the points were shared and City’s top two aspirations remain alive.
With seven senior players serving suspensions and key defenders Michael Jakobsen and Ivan Franjic out injured, Valkanis added seven members of the Club’s NYL Championship winning team to the line up to face the Roar.
16-year-old defender Dylan Pierias and 17-year-old central midfielder Denis Genreau were handed their first senior starts and the new-look side started the match brightly.
Early shots from distance signaled City’s intent to get on the front foot and attack the Roar, who had endured a long-haul 10-hour flight from China midweek.
Neither team created many chances in the opening half hour but it was Thomas Sorensen – recalled in place of a suspended Dean Bouzanis – who was the first goalkeeper called into action. The 40-year-old Dane was off his line quickly to bravely strip Brandon Borello of possession after the Roar attacked sharply on the break.
Minutes later, Josh Rose was adjudged to have brought down Borello in the box, despite replays showing minimal contact. Maclaren slotted the resulting penalty to give the away side the lead.
The Roar doubled their advantage and Maclaren doubled his tally on the stroke of half time with a composed finish past a diving Sorensen.
City, inspired by impressive performances from midfielders Neil Kilkenny and Anthony Caceres, lifted after the break.
After Sorensen twice denied Maclaren his hat-trick with two terrific saves, it was Caceres who set up the home side’s opening goal in the 58th minute with an outstanding deft touch. With Brisbane unable to clear their lines, City’s number 10 laid the ball off to Kamau, who had found a pocket of space inside the box, and the winger finished low past Michael Theo to score his first goal for the Club.
Invigorated, City began to press harder. Man of the Match Nick Fitzgerald caused Brisbane headaches down the left and ran at young Roar right-back Dane Ingham at every opportunity. Fitzgerald’s efforts and pressure were too much for Ingham, who eventually gave away a penalty, which Colazo coolly slotted into the side netting to notch his second goal against the Roar in as many meetings.
Braedyn Crowley entered the game as a late substitute and looked lively but City, who fought doggedly to overturn the half-time deficit, were forced to settle for a draw.
Valkanis’ side travel to Wellington next Saturday for a third meeting against the Phoenix and will then attempt to put a halt on Sydney’s unbeaten season at AAMI Park.