Melbourne City played out a 1-1 draw with Preston Lions in the NPL2 at Genesis Steel Stadium on Friday night.
An arm wrestle throughout saw the clash deadlocked with 10 minutes to play, before own goals at either end cancelled each other out and the points were shared.
The A-League Men international break meant good news for NPL Head Coach Crisdion Krstevski, welcoming back a few key players who had been involved with City’s senior squad in recent weeks.
Emile Peios, Patrick Hogan and Kerrin Stokes all returned from first-team duty, while Sebastain Esposito and skipper Harry Politidis were also back in the XI.
Starting XI: 1. James NIEUWENHUIZEN (GK), 45. Harrison SHILLINGTON, 4. Joshua DAMEVSKI, 3. Kerrin STOKES, 12. Harry POLITIDIS (C), 17. Sebastian ESPOSITO, 16. Emile PEIOS, 26. Marcus HUMBERT, 21. Ben MAZZEO, 11. Patrick HOGAN, 18. Taylan UNAL.
Substitutes: 20. Adrian SINAGRA (GK), 2. Dom FOLINO, 5. Jordan DELLIDIS, 6. Justin PAOLILLI, 44. Tobenna OBANI, 99. Giorgio SERDENSES.
There’s been plenty of tight NPL clashes between City and Preston over the last couple of years, and this one shaped up to be no different with an even start to the contest.
Emile Peios was lively early for City and was the catalyst for the first real opportunity of the night in the 10th minute, dribbling through the Preston midfield and finding Ben Mazzeo on the right who won a corner.
A collision between Politidis and Preston keeper Matt Symes saw the ball spill towards the goal line, but the referee quickly blew for a free-kick to the hosts. Not pleased with the foul, Symes put the City skipper on the deck and was subsequently shown a yellow card.
Both sides traded spells of possession throughout the first half but clear-cut chances were at a premium.
A driving Patrick Hogan dribble opened up the Preston defence midway through the half before the youngster found Mazzeo, who forced a good save out of Symes.
James Nieuwenhuizen enjoyed a relatively quiet opening half with the likes of Josh Damevski and Harry Shillington sniffing out the danger before the City number 1 could be called into action.
Preston came out asking plenty of questions of the City defenders in the first 15 or so minutes in the second half, but all of those tests were passed with flying colours as the scoreline remained deadlocked at 0-0.
City won a free kick not far from the edge of the box just after the hour mark, presenting a great opportunity to take the lead.
Surprisingly for those watching on, it was Damevski stepping up to take it, but the reason was soon evident why the central defender was the nominated taker.
A powerful right-foot strike was unleashed towards the top corner and was only kept out by a good save from a full-length Symes dive.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 81st minute following a chaotic sequence of events.
Shillington was brought down what looked like just inside the box, with calls for a penalty coming from the City contingent which the referee waved away before showing the full-back a yellow for simulation.
A quick conversation with his assistant saw the referee quickly overturn his original decision before awarding a City free-kick right on the edge of the area. That set piece almost saw City take the lead, Mazzeo’s cross finding Damevski whose header was only just kept out.
The second phase proved vital though with Mazzeo again crossing into a dangerous area and Preston defender Karl Baricevic this time turning the ball into his own net in the 81st minute.
City looked the goods to hold onto the advantage until an own goal at the other end in stoppage time meant the points were shared.
Kerrin Stokes got in the way of an effort from Michael Trigger, but unfortunately, the deflection found its way past Nieuwenhuizen and into the back of the net.
City will return home to Parade College next Saturday, searching for a much-needed three points against 12th-placed Dandenong City.
Image Credit: Preston Lions FC/Matt Johnson