After a short six day turn around, the Knights returned home last Friday night to face off against NPL Victoria league leader Avondale FC. In a match certain to be a David and Goliath style battle, the Knights put in a remarkable 90-minute performance which saw the visitors leave with only a point in hand, with the Knights, one of only three teams to deny Avondale FC the full three points so far this season.
In a change from last week’s match, a number of key players who were sidelined last week against Kingston City returned to match selection, with young keeper Jordan Gifkins again starting between the posts for the home side.
— Melbourne Knights FC (@MelbKnights) May 4, 2018
The Knights wasted no time settling into the match once referee Perry Murs blew the whistle. A notable change for the home side was the positioning of central defender Tomislav Uskok, who took a more forward position than usual. This change in position seemed to afford more freedom in midfield which translated to Uskok being able to get involved in the creation of attacking plays for the Knights.
Danger reared its head early into the first half for the home side in the 8th minute when Avondale forward Evan Christodoulou tried to put his side a goal up with a direct shot on goal. The shot, carried from out wide on the left wing into the 18 yard box was sent just wide of the right post by Christodoulou, giving the home fans a sign of relief.
There was plenty of positive signs from the home side early into the half, with Knights creating multiple chances of their own through Nate Foster and captain Marijan Cvitkovic, whilst also making decisive defensive clearances, denying the Avengers most of their chances on goal.
Facing an opponent who boasts one of the stronger defensive records in the league, the home side were determined to find a way through Avondale’s back line and onto goal. Knights’ fans prayers were answered in the 18th minute when club captain Marijan Cvitkovic and Nate Foster stopped an Avondale build-up in the midfield area. The loose ball was collected by a well-positioned Tommy Uskok who advanced the ball through the midfield and played it onto Luke Jurcic on the right wing. Jurcic then slotted the ball in front of goal to the feet of Cvitkovic who tapped in into goal, sending the home side one-nil up early in the first half.
The early Knights goal set the tone for the rest of the half, with the visitors forced to play catch up for the remainder, with tensions running high for both sides. A string of bookings came after the 35th minute, first with Tomislav Uskok for a late challenge on Christodoulou, followed by one for Ross Archibald for instigating a scuffle with Nate Foster.
Knight’s fans once again held their breath in additional time when former Knight, Elvis Kamsoba, played a short pass onto Christodoulou who found himself in some space in front of goal. The shot hit and rebounded off the left post only to be taken out of play decisively by Jurcic. Soon after, referee Perry Mur blew his whistle to mark the end of an entertaining and strong first half for the home side.
Avondale, not content in staying goalless in the match, they came out of the change room determined to have a different half than the one just played. Their calls were answered only ten minutes into the second half, when a throw-in was met by Liam Boland and crossed onto Kaine Sheppard who nudged the ball with his head into goal, giving the visitors the equaliser they were looking for.
With scores equal at one a piece, both sides were looking for that special something to send their side a goal up before full-time. The 60th minute saw an advancing Kamsoba continually stopped by Ayden Brice, who eventually received a yellow card for a professional foul. Soon after, Knights welcomed back to the field veteran Ben Surey, who is currently in his ninth season for the club. Speaking of his return, Surey had this to say;
“Fingers crossed I can get through, I probably need a bit more training under my belt ideally, but 25 minutes today will keep me in good stint”
To the disappointment of home fans, the Avengers were able to add a one goal buffer to their score line in the 68th minute due to the efforts of Sheppard, who netted a brace for himself. Rising to the occasion, the Knights fired back with an equalising goal of their own ten minutes later when, from a corner set piece, Cvitkovic placed the ball perfectly into the 18-yard box and onto the head of an unmarked Ben Surey who gave himself and the team the ultimate welcome home gift. The headed effort gave the home side the much needed equalising goal which saw them able to claim a much deserved point at the end of the day.
Speaking post-match about his effort on goal, Surey had this say:
“I managed to get on the end of one of Marijan’s Corners, which had superb delivery. He’s done that a lot this year for us to set up a lot of goals and set pieces. I can’t remember the last time I scored a header from a corner but it was nice getting on the end of it.”
The draw marked the first time in three weeks that the Knights were able to walk away with some points of their own. Importantly, the hard-fought draw showed the capabilities of a side who is returning to full fitness. With key players returning to the squad each week, the Knights will be looking forward to well-earned momentum after a few rough weeks of results.
The Knights are back on the road in round 11 of the Victorian NPL, this time traveling to the home of the Port Melbourne Sharks.