Strong finish earns Melville a draw

Melville gaffer Ian McGrath has summed up his team’s 3-3 away draw with Birkenhead United as “a mixed bag performance” with “a good start, a wobbly middle and a strong finish.”

It was the first time in pre-season that Melville have not won, but was against a Birkenhead club that has not finished outside the top three in the northern premier league since 2013.

McGrath saw plenty to enjoy in the early stages, with good football played and plenty of chances created. Quick and penetrative combination play on both flanks involving Hansly Felix and Mark Jones stretched Birkenhead and created a number of half chances and good attempts at goal, the best of which were either well saved or narrowly missed.

Melville took a 1-0 lead courtesy of a Mark Jones penalty, though it only lasted seconds before a rash and unnecessary challenge gifted the home team an opportunity to reply in kind, and the score was 1-1 at half time.

A rare goalkeeping error gifted the home team a 2-1 lead early in the second half and a speculative long range shot through a crowded penalty area extended the lead to 3-1 with about 20 minutes to go, with Birkenhead looking sharper and a lot more energised than Melville.

But a raft of substitutions on the 65 minute mark breathed much needed life into some tiring Melville legs. Jerson Lagos and Lesley Kivolyn provided pace and energy down both flanks and Levi Clark and Harry Mason combined well to link play and create penetration in between and in behind the defensive line.

A dominant performance in the closing stages saw the creation of sustained attacking pressure and well created scoring opportunities. Levi Clark was the first to probe at goal, with a low driven shot that cannoned of the base of the post and soon after Marquez was on hand to tap in from close range to finish off a sweeping move created by the skill and perseverance of Lagos down the right.

Not satisfied with creating opportunities for others, it was Lagos who grabbed the third goal in the dying minutes poking the ball home in a goal mouth scramble to bring the score line level.
There was just enough time for Clark to create a golden opportunity to pinch the win in the final seconds, but his snap shot inside the penalty area, rose sharply over the cross bar with the goal begging, signalling the final whistle and a hard fought come back.

“We have played with more consistency in other games, but in very hot conditions, we showed real character and a valuable never say die attitude to get something out of today,” McGrath said. “And even though we probably didn’t deserve it, we could have easily pinched the win at the death.

“That was a tremendous fight back and it is always pleasing to see subs coming off the bench and having such a significant impact on the game and the final result.”

Melville are away to Napier City Rovers in their final warm-up on Saturday March 21 then begin their season at home to Central United on March 28 and away to Eastern Suburbs the following week.

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