Melbourne Knights and Marconi Stallions played out an entertaining one-all draw at Knights Stadium in warm conditions on Sunday afternoon. Stallions captain Brad Maloney opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark for the visitors, but Knights levelled through Ante Pelikan immediately after the interval. Knights had the greater number of opportunities throughout the match, but both sides had their opportunities to take all three points, without adding to the scoreline.
"I think on the chances we created, it was two points dropped," said Knights' coach Ian Dobson after the game. "There were a number of chances from set play in the first twenty minutes that we should have done better in finishing." "We're disappointed that we didn't come up with the three points. But I'm not disappointed with the performance."
"At the end of the day, we're very happy with one point," said Marconi coach Jean-Paul de Marigny. "I think the boys worked extremely hard. Coming here is always difficult, and we're very (happy) with the one point."
Stallions' goalkeeper Michael Turnbull was to have a spectacular ten minutes on the park, making a high-class save before needing to leave the pitch with concussion after a collision with a team-mate. In the opening minutes of the contest Turnbull made a diving save low to his right to keep out a goal-bound header from Steve Pantelidis who got on the end of an Andrew Vargas free-kick floated in to the edge of the 18 yard line. "How he got (to) it was incredible," said an appreciative de Marigny. "It was brilliant." It was Turnbull's last action in the game as he had to leave the field shortly afterwards following the later clash which left him disoriented. "He's in hospital at the moment because he's concussed," said de Marigny. "It's noting too major because I spoke with him at half-time, and he seemed to be making a bit of sense, even for a goalkeeper." Stacy Alogdellis took over and was soon tested by constant Knights' pressure which laid his goal under siege and led to a series of corners and free-kicks in dangerous positions.
Kovacic required the best from Alogdellis when he was found from an Andy Vargas free-kick struck low into the box. The replacement goalkeeper was able to divert the volley over the bar.
Andrew Vargas was already showing his influence on the match, and his re-energised return to Somers Street augurs well for the Knights' faithful. Coach Dobson had taken Vargas to VSF Premier League side Green Gully after a spotty season with the Knights, and following his appointment as coach at Knights, promptly brought him back. "We've worked with Andy for twelve months at Green Gully and looked at his mental state. That (has paid off) and that is the best I've seen him play."
But just when it seemed Vargas would urge Knights into dominance, Marconi took the lead. Marconi's own Knights' old-boy Joe Spiteri was ensuring he could also influence the game. Spiteri wriggled to the goal-line, then sent a text-book cut-back to the penalty-spot where Maloney gleefully volleyed home into the top right corner of the net. "He's a leader," said de Marigny of Maloney. "He works extremely hard and he's got a heap of pride in his ability. It's good to have him back."
No sooner had the second-half begun than Knights were level. An otherwise harmless cross from wide on the right by-passed the Stallions' defenders allowing Fa'arodo took advantage, spinning outside before sending in a low shot. Alogdellis made a blocking save, but the ball spilled. In a ruck of players each scrambling for possession, Pelikan finally managed the touch that sent the ball over the line. "Stacey is obviously a bit down on himself," said de Marigny. "It was a cheap goal (to concede)."
Alogdellis came to Stallions' aid shortly afterwards when Fa'arodo burst through an attempt at off-side and sprinted towards an otherwise unmarked goal. Fa'arodo run took him to the right of the goal, but Alogdellis had calculated his angles correctly and was able to grab Fa'arodo's right-foot attempt.
Luke Casserley had a shot that canonned off the bar, then Bill Natsioulas sclaffed a shot wide when in a promising position in fitful Stallions' attacks.
New signings Cercan Oksuz and Adrian Leijer had chances within seconds of each other after coming on as late substitutes. Oksuz had a looping header which Alogdellis only just reached to touch over the bar scrambling backwards. From the resultant corner, Leijer got his head to the ball, but insufficiently strongly enough to make a profitable connection.
"I think we'll only get better," said Dobson. "We're a very fit team at the moment."