Melbourne Knights took a step in the right direction in a 1-1 draw with Avondale in the National Premier League Victoria at Knights Stadium on Friday night.
The Knights have been prone to imploding when opposition teams have scored early against them this season, but they showed a steely resolve from the moment Avondale got its go-ahead goal to earn a share of the spoils.
Knights player-coach Ben Surey admitted that he was unsure of how his team would react after the concession of a goal to Jonathon Germano from the penalty spot in the ninth minute.
“Lately when we’ve conceded early in games, we’ve crumbled,” Surey said. “Conceding early was obviously a little bit frightening given what has happened in recent weeks and especially to a top team as well, so it was a good reaction.
“Having said that, I wasn’t too worried when we went down, because I thought we started well and we didn’t have many problems before that, so we knew if we stuck to the plan and didn’t panic and start doing things differently, we could get back in the game.”
It has been a period of instability for the under performing Knights.
The Knights, third last on the ladder with 18 points, have moved on to a third coach after the dismissals of Andrew Marth and Eric Vassiliadis.
Surey will have his second stint in the position, but rather than a caretaker role, it will be his job for the remainder of the season.
Surey likes the playing personnel he has to work with at the Knights, but is working hard to restore confidence in a team that has not won a league game since May 19.
“We’ve got 22 players to pick from now, so there’s competition for spots, which is good,” Surey said. “We did start the season well, we were playing well even when we didn’t win, but we’ve conceded late goals, we’ve had red cards at the wrong times and penalties, and just lapses in concentration.
“We obviously lost a bit of confidence and have only been alright in patches recently.
“We need to get our defensive structure a bit tighter, but also start playing with a bit more confidence and belief going forward.”
The game’s equalising goal from Kym Harris could be a turning point in the Knights season.
It could also be a turning point in Harris’s own season.
Harris scored six goals for Hume City last year, but his strike against Avondale was his first for the Knights this season.
“It would’ve been [a relief] for him,” Surey said. “He’s had a lot of unfair criticism this year, but he does a lot of unselfish work for the team, which doesn’t really get noticed outside the team.
“He’s had a few injuries as well, so it’s not easy when you’re in and out of the team.
“He got his goal, so hopefully that’s the first of a few between now and the end of the season.”
Kamal Ibrahim and Marijan Cvitkovic were praised for their impact off the bench.
The pair were squeezed out of the Knights starting line up as the team looks to find a spark.
The Knights were resolute defensively following the Germano goal.
Goalkeeper Fraser Chalmers were commanding in the air, while defenders Milan Batur and Medhi Martin stood tall.
Shaun Timmins, a Republic of Ireland underage international, played his best game for the Knights since debuting for the team on June 16.
“Defensively, he was solid, he’s strong and quick, so as long as he’s fit, he’ll be good for us,” Surey said.
The Knights will be underdogs on their trip to ladder-leader Heidelberg United on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the NPL, St Albans Saints took an early lead through Ryan McGuffie from the penalty spot, but went down to 10 men with a red card to
Ben Shaper and could not recover in a 4-1 loss to Oakleigh Cannons at Jack Edwards Reserve on Friday night.
The bottom-of-the-ladder Saints will host fourth-last Kingston City at Churchill Reserve on Sunday.
Green Gully had its best win of the season, upsetting South Melbourne 2-1 at Lakeside Stadium on Sunday.
Wade Dekker and Jonathan Bounas scored for the Cavaliers, who came from a goal down to win.
The Cavs have moved up to fifth spot ahead of a trip to Oakleigh Cannons on Friday night.
In NPL2, Sunshine George Cross consolidated fourth spot with a 2-1 win over Melbourne City at La Trobe University.
Yosuke Saito and David Younan scored for the Georgies, who will look to continue their momentum when Richmond visits Chaplin Reserve on Saturday.