A quality long-range strike from Frenchman Harry Novillo was enough to earn Melbourne City a point against Western Sydney Wanderers and keep them on track for only the second finals appearance in their history.
Novillo’s 39th-minute screamer cancelled out Yojiro Takahagi’s 20th-minute opener for the hosts to ensure the Good Friday A-League clash ended all square at 1-1 in front of 9054 fans at the Wanderer’s Pirtek Stadium.
City are now sixth with 34 points, six clear of Brisbane Roar who have a game in hand.
For almost the opening 45 minutes it looked as though Wanderers were the team chasing a finals berth and City the side with nothing to play for.
Tony Popovic’s side has taken an eternity to get going in this hugely disappointing A-League season, the effects of their heroic Asian Champions League victory and World Club Championship odyssey taking its toll in a horrendous fixture pile-up.
But they have been in decent form in recent weeks, routing Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium and almost upsetting high-flying Perth in WA last weekend.
And they started this game off as if they intended to continue in that vein, taking the game to the visitors, attacking at every opportunity and giving John van ‘t Schip’s side little or no time to settle or find any rhythm.
City were set back on their heels as the Wanderers forced an early corner and Nikita Rukavytsya and returning Socceroo Tomi Juric, along with Dutch import Romeo Castelen and Japanese playmaker Takahagi sought to impose themselves. Rukavytsya got into a good position but was flagged for offside, then Castelen shot wide when the ball bobbled to him.
City made little in the way of reply save for Robbie Koren’s rasping long-range drive that was easily held by Dean Bouzanis and Josh Kennedy’s shot, which flew wide after he had been set up by a Koren pass.
The Wanderers got the reward they deserved in the 20th minute from an excellent free kick by Takahagi after Rukavytsya had been scythed down by City’s veteran Dutch defender Kew Jaliens, whose lack of pace was being exposed by the speedy former Socceroo. Takahagi fired up and over the wall from the edge of the penalty area, leaving Tando Velaphi stranded and the hosts a goal to the good.
Velaphi then had to come off his line smartly to deny Juric as the striker chased down a long ball, and then the keeper had to save at Juric’s feet after the forward’s driving run took him past defenders and clear on goal.
Rukavytsya again outsped Jaliens but Velaphi saved well. Castelen fired over when a free kick ricocheted to him. The Wanderers were dealt a blow when Rukavytsya had to depart the field with an injury.
And then, out of nowhere, City were back level, thanks to a wonder strike by Novillo. Returning Socceroo Aaron Mooy looped a first-time ball from midfield wide to Novillo on the left. The junior French international cut in, carried the ball forward and then unleashed a sweet drive from outside the area that beat Bouzanis all ends up.
Wanderers had a great chance to go back in front when Velaphi fluffed a clearance and passed straight to Juric. The striker shot from well outside the area towards an open goal as the keeper scrambled to get back. There was no more relieved man on the pitch than Velaphi when the ball went wide.
City began the second period in brighter fashion. Novillo set up Mooy with a backflick down the left, and the latter fed Koren who made space well to get off a shot that stretched Bouzanis before the keeper tipped over the bar.
Bouzanis almost replicated Velaphi’s first half generosity when he tried to clear and smashed the ball straight at Kennedy. Fortunately for him the ball rebounded well wide of the goal.
Velaphi then produced a fine fingertip save to deny Takahagi’s close-range drive after a swift Wanderers counter attack and the game still felt as though it had at least another goal in it.
Castelen almost got it when he was through with 10 minutes remaining only to be stopped by Jaliens’s excellent late challenge. The draw will suit City, for Wanderers it matters little. Ladder after round 24 P W D L GF GA GD Pts *Wellington Phoenix 23133741281342 *Melbourne Victory 22118347281941 *Sydney FC 23118443301341 *Perth Glory 2311843830841 *Adelaide United 23124739261340 Melbourne City 249783434034 Brisbane Roar 2384113637-128 Central Coast Mariners 2448122244-2220 Western Sydney Wanderers 2436152640-1415 *Newcastle Jets 2328131847-2914 * – denotes teams yet to play
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.