Mooroolbark Barkers knocked off top spot by Knox

The Mooroolbark Barkers were knocked off the top spot by Knox over the weekend. Picture: UNSPLASH.

By Peter Stephenson

State 2 South-East’s match of the day saw two of the four men’s soccer sides on maximum points face off.

A drizzly Egan Lee Reserve saw Knox City (third) host Barkers (first), but who would have local bragging rights at the end of the day? Last week, Knox had beaten Monbulk Rangers 2-0, while Barkers had battered Brandon Park 7-1. This was going to be interesting.

Knox looked the sharper of the two sides and on four minutes, the tricky Daniel Aye wriggled away from his man in the left corner and crossed for Sean Brimmer, who hit a long shot well over. Barkers didn’t heed the warning, and a minute later, ex-Barker Jozsef Ferencz crossed from the right. The ball eluded the Barkers defence and found an unmarked Ray Markley, who calmly hit a low shot into the corner of the net for 1-0 Knox.

On 11 minutes a long shot from Brimmer had Barkers keeper Mark Naumowicz beaten but also beat the post, then two minutes later they actually hit the post. Barkers replied with Maxim Solovyev turning his man under pressure, then finding Sean Perrin on the left, in the clear, but Perrin screwed his shot wide.

Knox continued to pepper the Barkers’ goal to no avail. Then a bit of respite on 23 minutes as Barkers’ Arash Sadeghi went on a jinking run down the right. He was eventually brought down for a free kick, but Liam Seaye’s looping effort was too high. Knox then almost made it 2-0 when Damien Phillips took a header on the run which went over. Just on the half hour, a Knox free kick on the edge of the box was driven into the Barkers wall by Aye as Knox stayed well on top.

A rare Barkers attack on 33 minutes saw Solovyev cross from the left wing to the far post. The ball was cleared to Steve Nittoli, but his shot was well over. Knox responded through that man Aye on the left wing. He played a neat ball in to find Phillips in space, and his shot fizzed narrowly past the far post.

Six minutes before the break, Barkers’ defender Brett Tronconi, who was already on a yellow card, was lucky to escape an early bath when a wayward challenge on Phillips went unpunished. After all this pressure, Barkers would have been grateful for the half time whistle. Ironic, then, that three minutes into stoppage time, Geordie Scott got to the right byline and hit a dangerous, low cross to the far post, where Perrin was on hand to hit home from close range for an unlikely equaliser. Half time: Knox City 1-1 Mooroolbark.

Knox began the second half with most of the territory once more. Five minutes in, Kyle Crawford shot narrowly over. Then three minutes later, Aye turned his marker inside out on the left before shooting and hitting the far post. The rebound was hit into the net, but fortunately for Barkers, the scorer was ruled offside. Was Barkers’ luck beginning to change? Not enough, as it turned out.

On 56 minutes, Scott attacked for Barkers down the right and crossed for Solovyev, but he couldn’t get enough on his header to trouble Mustafa Zahir in the Knox goal. Knox came close again on the hour. First, Brimmer hit a long-range drive which Naumowicz gathered at the second attempt, then Chun Leung had a golden chance from close range, but a Barker defender put him off just enough to send the shot over the bar.

Barkers now had a good little period. First Sadeghi beat his man well on the right and crossed for Seaye. His first shot was blocked and his second attempt went over. Then Scott managed to round keeper Zahir, but his shot at an open goal was cleared by a defender rushing back. Next, a pass out to Solovyev on the left enabled him to cross for Seaye, but Zahir cut the ball out before it reached the attacker.

Eventually, Barkers’ luck ran out. On 72 minutes, Knox had a throw-in from the left. The ball reached Aye, whose shot looked like it would have been saved by Naumowicz. However, it took a wicked deflection off the back of a defender, giving the keeper no chance, and spinning into the net to restore Knox’s lead at 2-1.

Barkers still didn’t roll over though. With 10 minutes left, a gorgeous ball to Solovyev on the left gave him room to shoot, but the shot seemed rushed and it went over. Then Seaye and Sadeghi combined well on the right and had two or three chances at getting the ball into the box, but they came to nothing.

In the dying minutes, Barkers conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position just outside the box, and up stepped Brimmer to hit a thunderous shot into the net. There was still time for Nittoli and Scott to set up a shot for Sadeghi, but his shot was blocked. Full-time: Knox City 3-1 Mooroolbark.

Barkers tried hard in this frantic local derby but had no answer to the trickery of Aye or the aggression of Markley. Knox deserved the win and move to the top, while Barkers drop to third. Next Saturday sees the Yarra Ranges derby, as Barkers host eleventh-placed Monbulk Rangers.

Earlier in the day, Barkers’ reserves fought out an entertaining 3-3 draw with Knox and are still looking for their first win of the season. A fine hat-trick from Sam Klepac, returning to action following injury, wasn’t enough as Knox found a late equaliser with a fortuitous own goal.