A late equaliser from Ryan Lethlean saw Melbourne Victory come away with a point in a tight contest against Essendon, finishing 1-1.
Head coach Joe Palatsides made just the one change from last week’s victorious starting XI, with Joshua Inserra starting in defence in place of captain Ryan Lethlean.
Victory returned to Epping Stadium for the big clash against the Essendon Royals, as they looked to maintain their buffer at the top of the table.
Not looking to waste any time, Victory had their first attack within the first minute of the game, forcing a save from the Essendon goalkeeper after a blistering attack down the right side.
After the initial fast start, the game settled into a chess match, with Victory working on finding ways through the Royals defenders with slow build-up play from the back.
Adem Duratovic produced an impressive piece of skill on the right wing 20 minutes into the contest, but was unable to capitalise and gift Victory the advantage.
Essendon’s most threatening attack of the first half came in the 26th minute and saw Christian Siciliano produce a magnificent save, denying a close-range header from the Royals and keeping the score tied.
Not long after Siciliano’s effort, Austin Ganino found space just outside the box and took aim, with his effort only just sailing over the bar.
Victory continued to stem an onslaught of Essendon attacks towards the end of the half and produce run of their own.
The break saw the two sides locked at 0-0 after a fiery end to the first half.
The first big chance of the second half fell the way of Victory, with Duratovic and George Karvounis combining in attack before the former sent his shot just over the bar.
The first changes to the lineup came in the 59th minute, when Franco Lino and Kayne Razmovski came on to the pitch for George Karvounis and Marc Latsis respectively.
The captain Alex Menelaou and Jordi Valadon both produced shots on target in quick succession at the 71 minute mark, breaking a long stretch of limited opportunities for both sides in the second half.
The 76th minute saw the first goal of the match go against Victory. A run down the right wing resulted in a finish into the back of the net from close-range by the Royals to give them the lead.
An inspired late substitution to bring Ryan Lethlean into the attack and provide height late in the game proved immense in added time.
A cross into the box saw Lethlean tower over the defender and place a header into the back of the net, rescuing a point for Victory and giving them some consolidation after a well-fought match.
The draw is only the second for Victory this season, who now sit on 35 points atop the NPL3 table.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ post-match thoughts
On the performance:
“I think we all left a bit disappointed after the game.”
“Today we definitely weren’t at our best and I think that was quite evident for the players and us as well.”
“We just know we weren’t at the top of our game and I think that showed on the pitch.”
“It was a battle that was a bit of a scrap for both teams and we probably didn’t have those moments of quality that we usually can provide.”
On the result:
“It was good to get something out of the game at the end.”
“The boys never stopped trying even when we were down 1-0 and we got a late reward for the effort that we put in.”
“Not our best performance but at least we did manage to get a point out of a difficult situation.”
On the strong defending:
“It was important that our defensive organisation was at a good level.”
“The back four was under pressure during that first half and parts of the second half as well but in terms of defensive actions I thought they did quite well to keep us in the game.”
“It was just unfortunate we made a mistake there in the second half and that’s what this leagues about.”
“Sometimes if you do make a mistake, you will get punished for that.”
On Lethlean’s substitution and equaliser:
“We decided to change formation because we knew we needed to become more attacking.”
“Ryan’s played a lot of his career if not most of his career as a striker so even though we think he’s made a great transition into a defender… in a moment of need when we needed a more attacking element to our game we had that option.”
“I thought I’d put him up top and see if he could get on the end of our forays forward and fortunately he did and he scored a great goal.”
Victory play at home once again on Sunday the 2nd of July, as they take on Box Hill United from 3:00pm at Epping Stadium.
NPL3 Victoria 2023 Round 15
Melbourne Victory 1 (Lethlean 91′)
Essendon Royals 1
Melbourne Victory U23s starting XI: Christian Siciliano (GK), Joshua Inserra, Alex Menelaou (c), Adem Duratovic, Jordi Valadon, Kasey Bos, Austin Ganino, Noah Spaseski, Marc Latsis, George Karvounis, Damien Bozinovski