A Taylor McDonald strike in the dying stages has helped Wollongong Wolves salvage a 1-1 draw with a determined Manly United outfit at WIN Stadium on Sunday.
The draw was Wollongong’s first points of the season after an embarrassing 4-0 loss in the opening round to Rockdale Illinden.
The game was played as a curtain raiser to the A-League clash that took place after as the Wellington Phoenix toppled the Perth Glory.
It looked as if it was going to be another tough day at the office for the Wolves when Richie Cardozo put Manly in front early thanks to a curling free-kick.
In front of a passionate home crowd, the Wolves fought back and snatched a point in dramatic style in the 89th minute courtesy of McDonald’s clutch finish.
Manly made a strong start to the match as they put the pressure on home side Wollongong early.
Jack Fulton robbed the ball in midfield and tried his luck from distance but the effort was saved by Wolves’ ‘keeper Munford.
The Reds didn’t have a shot on target until midway through the half, from skipper Lachlan Scott.
The passing was of a high standard yet a clear cut scoring opportunity didn’t materialise until Marcus Beattie broke down the right but fired narrowly wide of the Manly upright on the half-hour.
It followed an intriguing midfield battle and a deflected effort shortly after which had Wolves in the ascendancy.
Then came the opening goal when Cardozo lifted a curling free-kick into the area in the 36th minute that caught on the swirling breeze to sneak into the top left-hand corner of the net for the visitors to grab the lead.
It was a goal that certainly caught Wolves keeper Munford off his guard.
It was fortunate and against the run of play at this moment of the match but just about a deserved lead given the nature of the half.
Manly took their slender lead into the break and on the balance of play, it was hard to deny them in a match that could have gone either way.
Hamish Lamberton replaced Ethan Kambosios for the Wolves at the start of the second half, the home side looking to restore parity from their goal-shy attack however, chances were far and few between the two evenly matched sides.
Kieren Paull made a darting run down the Wollongong left and squared the ball for Ben Koop who, with an open goal, somehow contrived to hit the upright from less than six-yards out to extend United’s lead.
It was an absolute sitter in the 55th minute and one he won’t want to watch in the highlights reel.
Munford was forced into action moments later, Wolves sparking into life but still searching for their first goal of the season.
Paull was quick to deny Wolves captain Scott in the latter stages with a perfectly timed interception inside the box.
The home side were unable to make anything of the resulting corner and were themselves nearly caught out but for a heavy touch from Fulton allowing Munford to clean up as the game became stretched.
McDonald went upfield for the final stages, urging on his side and was the recipient of a ball over the top to control perfectly and find the back of the net, much to the relief of the home support.
Wolves’ coach Luke Wilkshire admitted his side were far from their best despite fighting back to claim a draw.
“We didn’t deserve to win today and let ourselves down,” he said.
“We’re not making the right decisions at the important moments yet.
“We were unfortunate to go behind in the manner we did but that’s football and the positive I take from this game is the character we showed but it wasn’t a good performance by us today.”
Manly boss Adam Griffiths rued an afternoon of wasted chances
“We didn’t create as many clear cut opportunities as we’d have liked and we needed to be more ruthless in front of goal,” he said.
“We probably should have had two or three more goals today but we let ourselves done in that area.
“Some of the lads felt the heat a bit but it’s only the second game of the season and we’ll build on our physicality and move on from here.”
Wollongong Wolves 1 (McDonald 89’)
Manly United 1 (Cardozo 36’)
WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Sunday, 7th March 2021
Referee: Hossam Jomaa
Ast. Refs: Liam Webb & Maddy Allum
4th Official: Nathan Shakespear
Wollongong Wolves: 1.Aidan MUNFORD, 2.Taylor McDONALD, 3.Darcy MADDEN, 4.Nicola DJORDEVIC, 6.Ethan KAMBISIOS (18.Hamish LAMBERTON 46), 7.Marcus BEATTIE (17.Jake LAVALLE 75’), 8.Brendan GRIFFIN, 11.Leroy JENNINGS, 12.Harrison TARANTO (10.Van ELIA 60’), 19.Bilal BELKADI, 24.Lachlan SCOTT
Substitutes not used: 13.Stefan DIMOSKI, 16.Fletcher McFARLANE,
Yellow Cards: Belkadi 79’
Red Cards: Nil
Manly United: 19.Sam BENTON, 2.Kieren PAULL, 5. Sam GALLAGHER, 7.Jack FULTON, 9.Ben KOOP (8.Jimmy OATES 83’), 10.Richie CARDOZO (12.Luca KMET 60), 14.Dejan PANDUREVIC (13.Scott BALDERSON 65’), 15.Jesse PIRIZ, 16.Seiya KAMBAYASHI, 20.Alen AGANOVIC, 24.Finn ASHTON (11.Daniel FABRIZIO 60)
Substitutes not used: 1.Dylan MITCHELL, 18.Lucas RAINBIRD
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
3 – McDonald (WW)
2 – Cardozo (MU)
1 – Griffin (WW)
By National Premier Leagues NSW Reporter Micky Brock