Avondale’s run of tough form has continued after they were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw with Port Melbourne at JL Murphy Reserve on Saturday night, extending their winless streak to five games.
The Avengers held the lead for most of the game and looked set to hang on for a crucial victory, but they were made to pay for a lack of execution in from of goal when the Sharks found a late goal to snatch a draw.
Things got off to the perfect start when the away side opened up the scoring inside three minutes.
Tasuku Sekiya played a quick free kick before James Riccobene unleashed an superb shot from outside the box that sailed perfectly through a crowd of Sharks defenders before deflecting in off the post.
After a frustrating goalless 90 minutes the week before against Dandenong City it was an ideal start for the Azzurri, and kicked off an action packed first half with plenty of attacking chances.
Sekiya, Brandon Lundy and Stefan Zinni both all chances for Avondale but couldn’t find the back of the net, while Stefan Valentini had a headed effort cleared off the goal line.
Meanwhile down the other end, Chris Oldfield was forced to make a number of crucial saves to preserve his side’s lead. The Avondale gloveman made a superb diving stop to tip a free kick wide of the post and another excellent save to deny a one-on-one effort.
The second half got off to a slower start as both teams looked to try and control possession of the ball. But after a relatively quite first 25 minutes, the game soon jolted back into life as Port Melbourne stepped up the pressure for an equaliser.
Oldfield was once again called into action, making a save off what looked to be a deflected long-range shot before producing yet another outstanding stop to deflect a venomous strike onto the post and out for a goal kick.
Having come close to equalising it was then Port’s turn to be thankful for some great goalkeeping after Matthew Symes made an incredible double save to keep his side in the game.
Valentini was able to run onto a booming goal kick and dribble into the box before Symes charged out to block his shot. The rebound then fell to Liam Boland who seemed all but certain to put the ball home, only for Symes to get his hands his volley while still on the ground from his initial save.
The chance was a huge opportunity for the Azzurri to put the game to bed and it didn’t take long for Port Melbourne to make them pay for not taking it, equalising only two minutes later.
After a scramble in the penalty box the ball quirted out to Port Melbourne midfielder Kamal Ibrahim who pounced and smashed the ball past a helpless Oldfield.
That wasn’t the end of the action though, Avondale had two more chances deep into stoppage time to reclaim the lead.
Boland had another opportunity after finding himself in space, but his shot from a quick turn was again beaten away by Symes.
After a foul from the ensuing corner the Avengers were awarded a free kick from a dangerous position. Jonathan Germano’s amazing curling strike looked destined to find the top corner, only for Symes to dive and claw it away, ensuring his team would hang on for the draw.
The result continues a frustrating run for Avondale who, after winning 12 of their first 13 games this season, are now winless in their last five.
However, despite their poor run of form, thanks to their superb start to the season the Avengers are still on top of the table – three points clear of second-placed Bentleigh and four points ahead of third-placed Heidelberg.
Despite the frustrating result there were positives to take away from the game for Avondale, including the long awaited return of an injured Avenger.
Defender Dillon Jakupi made his first appearance for the senior side in over a year after being sidelined by a serious knee injury.
Jakupi was originally listed as a substitute, but moved into the starting lineup after Phillip Riccobene was forced to withdraw after a minor injury in warmup. He played 81 minutes, before being subbed off for Jem Berkant.
Avondale will be looking to return to the winners list this weekend when they take on bottom-of-the-table Kingston City at 7:30pm on Saturday night at the Grange Reserve.
By Bransen Gibson