Melville push hard but lose

Melville showed plenty of spirit but ended their opening northern premier league match of the season empty-handed after losing 3-4 at home to a tidy Central United team.

There was no disgrace in defeat, even though it was the fifth successive occasion Melville have lost their opening home match of the season at northern premier level.

Certainly it felt far less painful than the 0-1 loss to Wanderers first up in 2019, the 0-4 humiliation by Bay Olympic in 2016, the inept 2-6 loss to Bay Olympic in 2015, or the horror 0-4 capitulation to Central in 2012.

And for further context, it should be acknowledged that this winter Central have a number of players who look capable of playing at a higher level.

Indeed, in the second half they had the luxury of subbing on players such as Angel Berlanga, Dylan Manickum and Alfie Rogers – all lads who would have a decent crack at a starting berth at Melville (if they would agree to not trousering any money for 2020, of course).

But Melville at least made them work for their victory in taking an early lead, falling behind, battling back to 2-2, then coughing up a cruel own goal and being reduced to 10 men before staging an inspiring late surge that took them within a goalpost of nicking a draw.

It was a vibrant contest played at a good clip and shouldn’t dent Melville confidence too much ahead of another tough gig away to Eastern Suburbs on Saturday.

The Unicorns made a great start when Kieran Richards powered through on a solo burst in the third minute. Richards scorched down the right, weaseled his way between two defenders and smacked the ball into the net for one of the great Gower Park goals.

Melville statistician Ron Anorak said it was the first time Richards had started a match for Melville and scored, with his three previous goals having all come off the bench.

But Emiliano Tade, a player even the Melville faithful may have heard of, levelled in the 20th minute. Then Melville keeper Max Tommy made a great save from a free kick only for Angus Kilkolly to nudge home from the resultant corner to make in 2-1 to Central in the 26th minute.

Melville struck back with a piece of history in the 29th minute as wing-back Cam Brown scored past Central keeper Cam Brown. Ron Anorak believed this was the first time in the history of northern premier league that a player has scored against a keeper with the same derivative first name and surname (though he naturally welcomes advice on any prior such achievement).

Brown’s goal was made possible by a storming run down the right by Sean Liddicoat, who squared for the 17-year-old to open his northern premier league account at the far post.

It was cruel luck when Liam Hayes got his head to a Central United free kick only to lift it over Tommy and into his own net just before half time.

Worse was to come in the second half when Luke Searle copped a second booking when he collided heavily with the Central keeper (very much a case of Brown v red this time).

But generally Melville did far better in the second spell, and pushed Central hard, even after falling further behind when Kilkolly got his second in the 74th minute.

Melville coach Sam Wilkinson made three subs at half time, bring on attacking weapons Riku Soejima, Owen Comber and Steve Holloway.

Soejima hit the post with a searing shot, and then pulled a goal back – his first at this level – in the 84th minute after latching onto Holloway’s excellent far post header

Melville had a few late chances to level, including two late free kicks. But unlike Central, they couldn’t find a defender to add the crucial deft touch, and effectively lost one own goal to nil.

It was a tough debut for new Melville coach Wilkinson – who hopes to follow in the footsteps of his 2019 predecessor, Sam Wilkinson, and put Melville on the map nationally.

Wilkinson praised the impact of his second half subs – Jack Portegys also came on to make his premier debut – but said the send-off gave them a mountain to climb.

“At least we made a game of it, and our fighting spirit will stand us in good stead for the matches ahead,” he said.

He named Liddicoat as his player of the day.

Central coach Kris Bright praised Wilkinson for his tactical and strategic changes at half time which put the pressure back on the visitors.

“You stopped us from playing,” he said.

Melville Reserves lost 2-1.

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