Melbourne Victory were held to a draw by Box Hill United in a fiercely contested Friday night clash.
Will Wilson and Luka Prso were both unavailable for selection, creating opportunities for Darcy Anastovski and Alexander Tsimopoulos in the starting XI. Meanwhile, Patrick Hogan was rewarded for a solid showing last week with another start at right-back.
After their impressive win over league-leaders Melbourne City last week, Victory came into the game brimming with confidence.
Now just two points behind City at the top of the NPLM 3 table, another win would take Victory to the top of the pile.
However, Box Hill were the side who started the brighter, scoring from their first chance just eight minutes into the game.
The opener came following a quick break where despite an initial save from Victory keeper James Siekris, the ball was bundled over the line at the second attempt by Stuart Edgar.
Having already taken an early lead, Box Hill should have doubled their advantage just ten minutes later after being awarded a penalty following a foul on the edge of the area.
The chance was ultimately wasted as the penalty was fired over the crossbar, ensuring the scoreline remained 1-0.
The remainder of the half was more evenly matched, with both sides’ willingness to commit numbers forward for every attack creating an end-to-end spectacle.
However, neither side could find the crucial second goal before the break, with Box Hill taking their lead into half-time.
Victory put out a much improved performance in the second half, looking more solid at the back whilst regularly posing an attacking threat.
Box Hill though created the first major chance of the half following another quick break, with Siekris called into action once again to make a tremendous save down to his right.
The goal-saving effort at the back was soon matched by Adem Duratovic up top, who scored the equaliser for Victory following a flick-on from a corner in the 66th minute.
A classy finish from Duratovic who has now scored three goals in his last two games.
Several substitutions appeared to give Victory a burst of energy as the game edged towards its conclusion.
The visitors continued to build the pressure right until the final whistle, with Duratovic and Binyam Kebede both having chances to win the game.
Box Hill also very nearly snatched all three points with a counter-attack in the final minute, although the shot was dragged just wide.
The game ultimately finished level.
The result means Victory miss out on the opportunity to move to the top of the table.
Nonetheless, Victory’s unbeaten run has been extended to three games, with only one defeat coming in the last nine matches.
Victory return to Epping Stadium next Saturday 25 June to take on Springvale White Eagles at 3:00pm AEST.
NPLM 3 Victoria 2022 Round 14
Box Hill United 1 (Edgar 8′)
Melbourne Victory 1 (Duratovic 66′)
Melbourne Victory U23s starting XI: James Siekris (gk), Patrick Hogan, Ryan Lethlean, Jackson Lino, Franco Lino, Anthony Leban, Alexander Tsimopoulos, Binyam Kebede, Darcy Anastovski, James Paneras, Adem Duratovic
Victory U21s have to wait until Sunday afternoon to face Box Hill United at Wembley Park at 5:15pm AEST.