Melville earn worthy away draw
A green-looking midweek Melville team grafted to a laudable 1-1 away draw under lights at Papakura against northern premier league title contenders Onehunga Sports.
The point elevated Melville to fifth on the table, hitting the top half for the first time this season.
Had they won, Onehunga would have gone top of the league on goal difference. Instead they are two points adrift of North Shore – who Melville now host at Gower Park (3pm) on Saturday.
Melville’s line-up was: Max Tommy, Joel McMullan, Federico Marquez, Flynn O’Brien, Campbell Brown, Josh Galletly, Logan Wiznewski, Harry Christensen-Rose, Craig Pritchard, Marc Evans and Leslie Kivolyn (Gabriel Jhang). Unused subs were Aarun Lim, Callum Donlon and Neil Mouncher, the 57-year-old reserve keeper.
Schoolboy Brown, 16, played at left back on his northern premier league debut, and showed talent, while Kivolyn and Galletly made their first starts at this level and Christensen-Rose made his first start since April.
Unavailable for Melville were usual starters Aaron Scott, Liam Hayes, Mark Jones, Josh Davies, Luke Searle and Mike Pritchard (who returned to Wales on Sunday for personal reasons).
And while there was almost a sense of relief that such an inexperienced line-up had not got a pasting from an Onehunga team which was oozing class and experience, there was also a tinge of regret that Melville had not kick on and won, having led for most of the evening.
Marc Evans gave Melville a perfect start in the fifth minute when he headed home a rebound from a Christensen-Rose shot after fine build-up work by Pritchard. It was Evans’ 24th goal of the season in 23 league and cup outings. The Hitman played in the hole for a change and put in a huge shift, showing he could also track back and tackle, though did pick up a booking for his efforts.
The other star was Pritchard, who has emerged as a major influence since arriving in the second half of the season, and he would have to rate as one of the most creative players seen in a Melville shirt.
Galletly could be pleased with his evening’s work, Wiznewski played the Liam Hayes role (without getting booked) while Marquez got through a 90-minute shift as centreback, after being handed the captain’s armband.
Evans almost gave Melville a 2-0 lead just before half time when he cut in from the right and from outside the area curled a wicked left-foot shot, only to draw a fine save from Onehunga keeper Mackenzie Waite.
Onehunga bossed possession and territory, but for all that Melville had a gilt-edged chance to go further ahead midway through the second half. Pritchard squared for substitute Jhang, but just when set to make a name for himself, from 4 metres out the 16-year-old blazed high over the bar.
Immediately afterwards Onehunga equalised through Kenta Saito.
Melville and Onehunga could yet meet again in the Chatham Cup final, but even though they acquitted themselves well, it is hard to envisage Melville going with this lineup if that is the case.