Melbourne City played out a 1-1 draw against second-placed Preston Lions on Friday night, the teams sharing the points on a chilly night in Bulleen.
While there were chances at both ends of the pitch across the 90 minutes, both goals came in the space of a five-minute period before half-time.
Head Coach Crisdion Krstevski included both Sebastian Esposito and Harrison Shillington in his starting XI, the duo having recently returned from Australia U18 duty.
Starting XI: 1. James NIEUWENHUIZEN (GK), 45. Harrison SHILLINGTON, 4. Joshua DAMEVSKI, 5. Jordan DELLIDIS (C), 2. Dom FOLINO, 17. Sebastian ESPOSITO, 24. Alec BECVINOVSKI, 16. Emile PEIOS, 9. Giorgio SERDENES, 44. Tobenna OBANNI, 46. Medin MEMETI.
Substitutes: 90. William SPARROW (GK), 14. Taylan UNAL, 21. Ben MAZZEO, 38. James RALLIS, 43. Marcus HUMBERT, 66. Xavier STELLA.
Facing a Preston side that had the opportunity to go top of the NPL2 table with a win, City began the game positively and controlled the early exchanges well.
Despite this, it was the Lions who’d get the real first sight of goal for the night. A timely block from skipper Jordan Dellidis denied the initial goalscoring chance, before goalkeeper James Nieuwenhuizen pulled off a sharp save to deny Connor Bell’s follow-up.
It was an even contest for much on the first half, with majority of the 45 minutes played between the penalty areas.
Sebastian Esposito was brought down just outside the box in the 24th minute, with defender Joshua Damesvki stepping up to take the free kick. His attempt though was dealt with relativlety comfortably by Preston keeper Mackenzie Syron, who tipped the dipping strike over the crossbar.
City had another decent chance in the 37th when Tobenna Obani crossed from the left and found Medin Memeti, but the 15-year-old striker couldn’t quite generate the power required to trouble Syron, twisting his body to head towards goal.
A careless turnover in the middle of the park a couple of minutes later slightly opened the door for a Lions chance, and Aedon Kyra was all class, pulling off a stunning strike to beat Nieuwenhuizen from almost halfway in what will go down as a goal of the season contender.
Down but not out, City hit back just minutes later to ensure it was game on heading into the break.
A nice piece of build-up play down the left ended with Obani beating his man and once again crossing to Memeti, who fired towards goal where a waiting Giorgio Serdenes was in the right place at the right time and deftly tapped home the equaliser from close-range.
City continued to pile on the pressure with a pair of late corners but couldn’t quite find the opening again, the half-time whistle blowing with the scoreboard reading 1-1.
Unfortunately for the large crowd at the Veneto Club in Bulleen, that late drama wouldn’t quite extend into the second half.
Returning from international duty, both Sebastian Esposito in midfield and Harrison Shillington at left full-back brought plenty of confidence back from their time in Portugal, putting in strong performances.
Dellidis and Damevski were equally as impressive in the heart of defence, ensuring chances were few and far between for Preston.
After plenty of success in the first half, City continued to attack down the left and look for Obani, but it didn’t quite have the same effect as earlier in the night.
Once again, all the action came in the final stages of the half but this time around, neither side could add to the scoresheet.
An 87th minute diving header from a second-phase Preston set-piece momentarily looked to give the Lions the advantage, but the referee’s assistant raised his flag within seconds to rule out the goal for offside.
City also had a chance up the other of the pitch, Obanni crossing to substitute Ben Mazzeo who climbed high and saw his towering header go just centimetres wide of the post – although a foul was whistled and the goal wouldn’t have stood anyway.
City will return to Friday night lights this week, set to face Dandenong City away from home with a 7:45pm kick-off at Frank Holohan Soccer Complex.
Feature Image Credit: Matt Johnson // Preston Lions