United played well enough to have won this. So Marconi shouldn't really begrudge them salvaging a draw. Marconi's opening goal was due to an uncharacteristic backline lapse on United's part. And United's equaliser was deserved, considering the effort they put into their fightback. It was a pretty entertaining local derby tussle: Marconi's stronger attack balanced by United's more formidable defence.
It started off steamy after an afternoon storm and a fair crowd had turned out once the black clouds passed. There was a fair sprinkling of Marconi fans in the crowd and the United Boys and Girls were regaled in a new uniform: the Boys in red T-shirts with "On the piss again" on the back, while the Girls' motif was "Driving home again". You have to admire the organisation and element of humour, even while restraining a grimace at the sexism. One of the highlights in the first half was Labinot Haliti's work down United's left flank. It usually took two Marconi players at least to constrain him. Early on he was very entertaining, holding up the ball, attracting the attention of three Marconi players and then backheeling forward.
A long free kick by Damon Collina was held high by Marconi keeper Michael Turnbull - that was the only sort of threat he was subjected to for most of the evening. A shot by Haliti, curling in from the left, was blocked by Luke Casserly.
Franco Parisi disappointed twice after a good ball into the Marconi penalty area by Collina for Anthony Doumanis who crossed from the goal line. Parisi took too many touches to line up and his shot was deflected wide to the left. When it came in again Parisi shot to the left of goal. Mark Rudan put in the first of many great tackles on the aggressive Jeromy Harris. Brad Maloney responded by fouling Collina.
Turnbull and Angelo Costanzo came out well to stop Parisi and, on the first of many such occasions, Costanzo proved too strong in an encounter with Zeljko Babic. Joe Vrkic blocked a ball into the box by Harris, and Joe Spiteri played well into the left of the area and won a corner. David Huxley set Doumanis on a break. Doumanis played left to Haliti who rounded Casserly but found Costanzo too good covering. Petar Markovic shot a mid-range effort to the right of goal.
Michael Santalab, who was playing right midfield, took a free kick from the right to Collina in the box. Collina shot on target but Turnbull saved comfortably, diving forward. Markovic cut out a cross from the left intended for Nick Carle. Then it took three players to stop Haliti on a run down the sideline.
Spiteri played right to Casserly whose cross was too long for Spiteri to collect the return. Costanzo was still too good for Babic, but Parisi had some better fortune, beating three players and rounding the fourth before Brendan Renaud slid in to stop him. Huxley was executing some good direction and distribution from midfield.
Carle was very good keeping possession into the left of the United penalty area. His cross for Spiteri was glanced wide. Grant Last hit a fading shot but its path toward the right corner of goal slightly troubled keeper Liam Reddy. In the 23rd minute Huxley pushed through the centre and took a shot himself. From 23 metres he beat Turnbull but was just wide to the left of goal. Renaud played down the line to Spiteri who crossed but Huxley headed clear. In the 27th minute Parisi played square to Huxley who again shot just to the left of goal.
Babic fed Doumanis who sent a hospital ball to the corner for Santalab when he should have turned back for Babic or Haliti. Doumanis had a pretty miserable game by his usually inventive standards. Last walked over Babic. In the 31st minute Costanzo played down the right and crossed for Harris in front of goal. Harris, running in, shot from 25 metres and swung the ball into the netting on the right. Haliti responded for United, shooting high. Then Haliti rattled Casserly but Maloney blocked his cross and United had a corner.
In the 37th minute Markovic rushed in too soon to confront Harris on a break. Harris rounded him easily and ran on to goal. His shot swung to the left this time; Reddy was probably beaten. Vrkic went in a bit too hard on Spiteri. Renaud's free kick from the left was partially headed away by Vrkic and finally tidied up by Huxley. Maloney (probably getting tired of Haliti's showmanship) jumped in too soon on Haliti who beat Maloney and two others cutting in from the left. Haliti must have had a rush of blood, finding himself in some space, and sprayed his shot very wide right.
Spiteri (who I admire for his strength but who the Boys were taunting for his lack of heart) beat Haliti and Doumanis but certainly didn't have the wherewithal to get through Vrkic. In the 44th minute a foul on Spiteri won Marconi a free kick. Renaud put it high to the top right corner where Reddy held safely. My feeling was that the home team had much the better of the first half and, until Marconi scored early in the second half, were playing as if confident a goal would come their way eventually.
The second half began with Renaud and Spiteri combining and feeding Carle whose shot was blocked on the edge of the area. Marconi's left back, Simon Bell, dropped a through ball/shot into Reddy. Huxley put a good ball in from the left for Babic. Babic fell over and Costanzo cleared. Another good through ball came for Babic who this time fell over Bell. Maloney kept earning his money shutting down Haliti and Huxley hit a ball too long for Santalab.
In the 53rd minute Rudan stopped a Spiteri run and took the ball through the middle to halfway. He pushed the ball to his left for Babic who Š yes Š fell over. Costanzo hit the ball back to Spiteri who hadn't been picked up. Vrkic was closest but not close enough. No-one had dropped to cover Rudan. By the time Rudan got back Spiteri had expertly picked his spot inside the right upright and drilled the ball low past Reddy.
Both sides lifted in response to the goal. There were a couple of yellow cards. A change by Marconi. Maloney blasted through Huxley and Vrkic - no mean feat! A firm free kick by Parisi from the left sideline was taken well by Turnbull.
Spiteri looked to have scored an almost identical goal to his first, though this time by gentle placement rather than by driving the ball; but in beating Collina he was judged to have committed a foul (this was contentious, but Spiteri did appear to push Collina out of the way). Rudan, trying to set an example, was strong tackling through Spiteri and Harris. When Paul Ivanic and Dean Heffernan came on for Parisi and Santalab, Haliti switched to the right flank. United lost some shape and Marconi had more room to play.
In the 67th minute Renaud hit a great cross from the left corner and Spiteri headed just over. Six minutes later Rudan had almost as good a chance at the other end, heading a Heffernan cross at a fine angle across the mouth of the goal. Renaud crossed again and Marconi had a shot over the top right corner. Huxley put a great ball forward for Ivanic on the left of the Marconi area, but Ivanic could only run it over the goal line.
Casserly blocked a Heffernan cross and United had a corner. Huxley made a saving header to stop Maloney at the far post, waiting under a cross from the right. From the corner Huxley blocked a Renaud shot. In the 81st minute the home team equalised when Collina got onto a free kick from the left, pushing it into the back right corner of the net.
United were on top and looking for a winner. Marconi mainly focused on keeping them out. Casserly got up well to beat Heffernan on a cross from the right. Harris broke on the counter, took the ball to the left of three defenders and found enough room to get a shot low to the right side of the goal. Reddy was down well to save.
United coach Grant Lee thought his side had a lot of opportunities but was missing three players from the team that was successful against Spirit the week before. He thought one goal was always going to decide it. "We were a little bit undisciplined with the goal we gave away Š I know the boys are angry with what happened Š a bit of bad communication Š and Joe tucked it away very well." He said United fought well to come back.
Marconi coach Jean-Paul De Marigny said his boys were punished for being naïve and not giving themselves time to get back for the free kick which gave United the equaliser. He was optimistic, however, for the continuing improvement of the squad. Both coaches said they were committed to playing attacking football.