Avondale have suffered a setback in their bid to clinch top spot on the NPL table after fighting out a tough 1-1 draw with Dandenong Thunder on Saturday night at Dacland Stadium.
Both teams found the back of the net in the first half but were forced to share the spoils after neither side was able to find another goal in a hard-fought second half.
The Avengers entered the fixture as heavy favourites against their 13th-placed opponents and started the game well, but couldn’t capitalise on their early chances.
Stefan Zinni was causing havoc down the left-hand side and Liam Boland was looking dangerous up front, but his turning strike flashed wide of the target and a towering header crept just over the bar.
But despite controlling the game early on, Avondale soon found themselves behind.
Dandenong’s Blake Carpenter unleashed a long-range strike that swerved its way past a diving Chris Oldfield to give his side the lead against the run of play.
The Thunder then came within inches of doubling their advantage only minutes later, a long ball over the top put striker Brandon Barnes through one-on-one with Oldfield but the Englishman’s shot bounced out off the post before Oldfield made a superb double save to end the danger.
Despite falling behind the Avengers were able to wrestle back control of the game and were soon once again threatening Dandenong’s goal. Yusuf Ahmed came close to bringing his side level but pulled his shot wide after making a lovely driving run into the box.
An equaliser felt like it was coming and Avondale were soon given a golden opportunity to tie things up after Zinni was brought down in the penalty area. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Boland stepped up to slot his the penalty shot home and bring the visitors level.
Zinni and Boland then both had chances to give Avondale the lead before the break, but both failed to convert.
While the Avengers had largely controlled the game and dominated chances on goal in the first half, things changed after the break.
Avondale still controlled most of the possession, but found it much harder to generate chances. Ahmed’s long-range shot in the 52nd minute was the Azzurri’s only shot on goal in the second half, with the team unable to break down a resilient Dandenong defence.
Meanwhile, the Thunder were looking increasingly dangerous down the other end. The home side found more space moving forward in the second half, but were let down by their wayward finishing as they struggled to hit the target.
After a heartbreaking late defeat to Green Gully three weeks ago Avondale came within inches of suffering the same fate again, Barnes found himself through on goal deep into stoppage time but after chipping the ball over Oldfield the Avondale faithful were relieved to see it roll wide of the target.
Barnes’ chance was the last real moment of the game with the referee then bringing the game to an end, forcing both teams to share the spoils.
After the game Avondale head coach Zoran Markovski said he saw draw the draw as one point gained rather than two points lost, but it was still a blown opportunity for Avondale to capitalise on Heidelberg’s slip up against Kingston City to solidify their lead on top of the table.
The Avengers will now face a difficult run into the finals, with all of their last four games of the season coming against teams in the top half of the table, including games against second-placed Heidelberg and third-placed Bentleigh.
Avondale will hit the road again this week when they travel to Oakleigh to take on the Cannons at 7:30pm on Saturday night at Jack Edwards Reserve.
By Bransen Gibson