Melville end pre-season on a high note

Melville completed an unbeaten pre-season campaign with an encouraging 2-1 away win over defending northern premier league champs North Shore.

A result next Saturday in their opening premier league match against a star-studded Central United (Gower Park, 3pm) will be far more important, of course.

But this was a promising showing from Melville, who rotated 16 players pretty much equally throughout the game, in what could be a pointer to Melville’s approach in a season where five subs will be allowed.

“It’s good to get back in the winning habit,” said coach Sam Wilkinson, who was irritated by only drawing with Wanderers a week earlier.

He was even more pleased with the fact Melville didn’t cough up a late equaliser this week, even with all the stiffs on.

Indeed, it was Melville who finished strongest, with veteran striker Steve Kipchoge (nee Holloway) stabbing in an 85th minute winner when he timed his run just right to connect with a perfect low cross from fellow second half sub Campbell Brown.

Kipchoge, pictured above, has adapted a monastic lifestyle of meditation, cold showers and weekly fasting in a bid to make one last trip down to the northern league football well this winter. He is of uncertain age – records don’t go back that far – and a Taliban-like beard designed to mask his age perversely tends only to make him look 10 years older.

But what is known is that he made his northern premier league debut in 2001, before a number of his current team mates were born.

“I’m fit,” Kipchoge said. “Possibly the fittest in the squad.

“I could easily do 90 minutes if the gaffer wanted me to, but he’s already retired me once before, so I’m certainly not going to make an issue about it if he prefers to play the youngsters.”

Wilkinson opted to again start Kieran Richards and Dom Edwards up front in the first half in a sign they will be his starting strikers next week. Kipchoge and Riku Soejima came on at half time, while Edwards returned later in the match to get more much-needed game time under his belt.

Richards has come back stronger from his time in the US, while Edwards is even more muscular. Soejima has more finesse and is nimble with his one-twos and deft touches around the box, while Kipchoge has experience and rat cunning, and while not fast, often makes runs others don’t see.

Melville took the lead after about 25 minutes when Sean Liddicoat was fouled in the box, and Richards converted the spot kick.

Shore equalised in unusual circumstances when Melville pretty much stopped in expectation an obvious foul would be awarded. But it wasn’t and a ball over the top allowed an easy run on goal for Shore.

Melville had a number of chances to make the game safe, with Luke Searle, Richards, Levi Clark all having good opportunities. On reflection, Melville should have had this in the bag much earlier. Max Tommy got his knees dirty a couple of times, though had a relatively quiet afternoon.

But the win ultimately came from a lung-busting run from Brown on the left. He gave a Shore defender a 7 metre start but still managed to power ahead to collect a ball and make it to the byline for an early cross which made the goal possible.

Despite starting on the bench, Brown is putting real pressure on for a starting wing-back role with his super athleticism and quality delivery. Whereas some of the Melville players took more touches than a Catholic priest, Brown showed the benefits of early delivery.

On the other flank Liddicoat, a signing by previous coach Ian McGrath, already looks a great pick-up for Melville. He is versatile, drama-free, and fits in seamlessly on and off the pitch. And while most people seem to think he is in his 30s, he is still eligible for U23s. Mark Jones started well on the other flank.

At the back Joel McMullan has been Melville’s biggest improver in the last 12 months, and is the new Flynn O’Brien, but the biggest talking point at Allen Hill Stadium was the continuing emergence of Cambridge product Jack Portegys.

New Melville signing Jack Portegys is making his mark.

Word from some of the old hands is Portegys, just turned 20, is the new Gavin Douglas. He’s a big powerful lad, with greater aerial reach than an articulating boom, and you can see him earning plenty of game time this winter.

In midfield Wisnewski and Hayes are certainties to start – with Wisnewski having perhaps edged ahead of Hayes in terms of his importance to the cause with another cultured showing and a good percentage return on his passes.

Owen Comber was out injured this week.

In the curtainraiser Shore beat Melville 6-4.

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