Melbourne Knights have endured a one step forward, two steps back Saturday in the National Premier League.
The Knights experienced a bittersweet feeling after a 1-1 draw with title contenders Green Gully Cavaliers on the road at Green Gully Reserve.
They were disappointed not to come away with all three points considering how well they executed their game plan, but would generally have taken a point from a tough away venue if offered it.
The true cost of the Knights’ inability to hold on for all three points became clear later in the night when they found themselves a hefty four points outside the top six with three rounds to play after sixth-placed Oakleigh Cannons upset top-of-the-ladder Avondale.
Knights player-coach Marijan Cvitkovic said his side did most things right against Green Gully, but could not seal the deal because of a defensive lapse.
“We did well I thought,” he said. “We created a lot of good chances going forward.
“We purposely sat back because we knew the game plan Gully have … forward balls over the top.
“So we thought if we could sit back a bit and stay compact, we could kill that off a bit and it worked.
“We’re a bit unfortunate. They broke and scored from one opportunity … the way we assumed they would, which is disappointing.”
The Knights opened the scoring in the 69th minute with a goal that would have been fitting for a winner, AJ Inia producing a piece of individual brilliance to set up Anthony Duzel.
Inia gained possession in the defensive third, jigged past Gully midfielder Jay Davies at the halfway line and then toe-poked the ball ahead to avoid a tackle from Gully defender Daniel Jones. He regained possession in the front third to produce a delicious cross to Duzel, who coolly slotted it home.
It was a goal that provided a glimpse into Inia’s bright future.
“He’s got lightning pace,” Cvitkovic said. “He’s one of the quickest boys in the league. He’s one to watch for the future.”
But Green Gully would not be denied.
The fourth-placed Cavaliers produced a similarly impressive goal for the equaliser.
It all started with an interception from Matthew Breeze, who moved the ball to Teeboy Kamara on the right wing.
Kamara avoided a slide tackle, remained composed and calmly found Alex Salmon in the box.
Of course, Salmon rocketed the ball into the back of the net for his 23rd goal of the season to take the outright lead in the golden boot and break the hearts of the Knights fans.
“If you said you’d get a point at Gully before the game, I’d probably take it,” Cvitkovic said. “Under the circumstances though, we wanted all three.”
Green Gully can secure its finals berth with a win against Hume City away on Saturday evening.
Melbourne Knights will be looking to bridge the gap on the top six when they visit Kingston City on Friday night.
In NPL 2 west, St Albans Saints started Sunday in third place and leapt up to first with a 5-0 drubbing of Ballarat City at Churchill Reserve. Matthew Cundari led the way for the Saints with a double.
In NPL Women’s, Calder United maintained its eight-point lead at the top after a 4-0 victory over Box Hill United.
Calder will host fourth-placed Heidelberg United in a cracker at Keilor Park Recreation Reserve on Saturday.