Manly leave it late in dramatic opening night draw with Mt Druitt
A dramatic injury time equaliser from Seiya Kambayashi has spared Manly United’s blushes as they salvaged a 1-1 draw with Mt Druitt Town Rangers in Friday night’s NPL New South Wales season opener.
Wasteful for much of the contest, Adam Griffith's Manly side seemed destined to cede the points at their Cromer Park home after John Roberts' scrappy opener early in the second half gave the visitors an unlikely lead.
However, despite stoic defending for much of the contest, the Rangers could not hold on as the Japanese debutant announced himself to his new club in the 93rd minute with a classy headed finish.
The hosts threatened in the early exchanges and Rangers’ seemed destined for a tough slog when star off-season recruit, Tarek Elrich, was forced from the contest with injury inside the opening quarter hour.
However, despite their dominant start, and a bevy of early set pieces, the hosts failed to fashion a meaningful shot on target in the opening half hour - Jack Fulton coming closest with a close range header beyond the far post in the 18th minute.
While never cagey, the contest opened up immediately prior to half-time with both keepers finally called into action – Rangers skipper Carlos Salidiarre parrying away Benjamin Koop’s firm effort for Manly, before Roberts drilled a strike straight at Manly gloveman Samual Benton a minute later.
Neither side could land a telling blow before the break, but the intensity remained high after the restart as Kieren Paull sent a fizzing effort over the cross bar for the hosts.
However, Manly soon paid for their lack of cutting edge as Roberts harried the opener across the line in the 55th minute – his initial header from Marc Warren’s free-kick bouncing back off the crossbar before he pounced on the second-chance rebound at point blank range.
Clearly buoyed by the breakthrough, Rangers nearly doubled their lead just minutes later as Blake Thompson found the woodwork with a 25 yard free-kick but this time the rebound fell favourably for the Manly defence.
The hosts soon rallied as Fulton saw his strike from distance fade wide shortly after the hour, but they remained frustrated by a Rangers defence expertly marshalled by the experienced combination of Warren and Salidiarre.
Manly’s task was made all the harder as they continued to waste chances in promising positions - Kambayashi snatching at a volley inside 15 yards with a quarter hour remaining, while Luca Kmet flashed a shot the wrong side of the near post soon after.
However, the Rangers’ resilience could not last as the hosts finally found the back of the net in injury time – Kambayashi converting with a pin-point looping header past Salidiarre from Dejan Pandurevic’s well-placed cross from deep.
The draw marks a fourth straight year Manly have fallen short of a win in their opening round fixture.
For the Rangers, the result delivers their first ever opening round point in NPL New South Wales’ top tier since earning promotion ahead of the 2019 campaign.
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