By Brandon Galgano (@bgalgano94)
A contentious penalty with ten minutes to play has seen Northcote pip back NPL frontrunners South Melbourne in an entertaining draw at John Cain Memorial Reserve this evening.
Milos Lujic gave the visitors the lead with an incisive finish off a fantastic Tyson Holmes through ball with just over fifteen minutes to play before a late penalty from Jonathan Munoz saw the home side run away with a point.
Playing on an abysmal playing surface under torrential rain for most of the match it seemed that the match would most likely be decided on who could make the most of their set pieces.
That was evident in the first half as neither side created any meaningful opportunities in open play.
A Jamie Reed free kick was the closest the match came to a goal in the first 45 minutes as the surface clearly limited both sides ability to get on the ball through the midfield.
The second half opened up though with South clearly adopting a more attacking strategy in the hopes of getting themselves into the lead.
And that pressure very nearly saw the league leaders grab the opener as a goal mouth scramble saw two efforts blocked by Northcote defenders, before the ball fell to Tyson Holmes who volleyed from close range only for Northcote goalkeeper Chris Theodoridis to save at his near post.
South continued to apply the pressure though and it was Nick Epifano who had the next chance to open the scoring as he was played through, but his left-footed shot from a tight angle sailed over the bar in the 62ndminute.
Eleven minutes later, South Melbourne finally took the lead though through Milos Lujic.
The former Northcote big man was fed through brilliantly by Tyson Holmes and with just the keeper to beat he slotted home past Theodoridis to give his side a deserved lead.
Despite all of their good work going forward though, it was a series of critical errors at the back which brought the home side back into the contest.
With a seemingly over hit long pass coming over the top for Northcote, South Melbourne keeper Jason Saldaris charged off his line to clear.
But instead of getting the ball out of the danger zone he sliced his clearance into the air behind him, and in his attempt to bicycle-kick the ball clear he tripped, missing the ball completely and thus leaving an open goal gaping behind him.
Sensing an opportunity to equalise, South Australian import Liam Wooding pounced, dribbling the ball past a defender before being brought down right on the edge of the area just as he was about to shoot for goal.
With debate as to whether or not the foul was committed in the box raging on around him the referee sought the guidance of his assistant who indicated that Bradley Norton had indeed fouled the Northcote midfielder inside the area.
Jonathan Munoz then slotted home the resulting penalty against his former club to level the match at 1-1 with just over ten minutes to play.
Northcote then very nearly stole the victory in the 89th minute as a Wade Dekker cross was cleared into his own post and out for a corner by a South Melbourne defender.
Following that scare though South Melbourne could’ve and should’ve sealed the match once and for all in stoppage time with not one but two clear cut opportunities to win the game.
The first fell to Tyson Holmes who found himself free inside the six-yard box but he could only drive the ball across the face of the goal, almost skimming the far post on its way past.
The second chance though was in the final seconds of the match as Milos Lujic once again found himself clean though with just Theodoridis to beat.
It was the Northcote keeper who won out this time though with a fantastic save to ensure the home side escaped with a point.
Northcote coach Goran Lozanovski paid tribute to the quality of the opposition in a tightly fought contest before praising the spirit of his own side in a clash against one of the true Victorian heavyweights.
“Look you have to pay due respect to South Melbourne, their on top for a reason and I think they’ve got a super squad,” Lozanovski said.
“Knowing where we’ve come from last year to this year, we knew it would be a challenge from the start but to the boys credit we have had a good last month or so and this is the sixth match in which we haven’t lost so were slowly growing and maturing which leads well into next season.’’
For South Melbourne coach Chris Taylor though, it was two points dropped as they look to extend the gap between themselves and second placed Oakleigh.
The former Dandenong Thunder treble-winning gaffer lamented a series of defensive errors which led to the equalling penalty.
“It was just a series of errors and that’s what we spoke about at half time, not making errors, and as a result we kind of gifted them a goal so that’s the most disappointing aspect as I felt it was the type of game were one goal would maybe be enough but it just wasn’t to be,” Taylor said.
“I felt that we probably had enough chances to have won it but we didn’t take them and that’s the way it goes.”
Northcote City 1 (Munoz 79’ pen.) drew with South Melbourne (Lujic 73’) at John Cain Memorial Reserve.
Northcote City: 22. Chris Theodoridis, 6. Aaron Ward (Nasr Said 87’), 4. Kristian Konstantinidis, 7. Jonathan Munoz, 10. Marinos Gasparis (Jonathan Bounas 59’), 5. Phillip Petreski, 15. Wade Dekker, 11. Liam Wooding, 16. Greg Lombardo, 2. Adrian Chiappetta ©, 14. Michael Catalano (Anthony Rizk 70’)
Unused Substitutes: 1. Luke Gavalas
Yellow Cards: Lombardo 16’, Theodoridis 32’, Munoz 64’, Catalano 68’, Konstantinidis 88’
Red Cards: None
South Melbourne FC: 1. Jason Saldaris, 25. Shaun Timmins, 4. Michael Eagar ©, 14. James Musa, 11. Brad Norton, 7. Nick Epifano (27. Leigh Minopoulous 84’), 10. Tyson Holmes, 9. Milos Lujic, 77. Stephen Hatzikostas, 12. Iqbal Jawadi, 17. Jamie Reed (8. Matthew Theodore 76’)
Unused Substitutes: 21. Chris Maynard, 3. Andrew Mullett, 15. Kobbie Boahene
Yellow Cards: Musa 37’, Hatzikostas 87’,
Red Cards: None
Image credit: Cindy Nitsos