By Peter Stephenson
On Saturday afternoon, an unseasonably sunny Esther Park saw Barkers soccer team (eighth) host Knox City (fourth) in a bid to get back on the winning trail after three away defeats.
Barkers made two changes to the side which lost 2-3 at Brandon Park, with Ahren Angulo and Steve Nittoli replacing Jack Buglass and Eddie Clark, who were both on the bench.
Knox started the better, and in the first minute ex-Barker Zack Merry hit a shot from the left past the far post. Four minutes later, Knox won a free-kick in their attacking half. Aaron Porcaro sent the ball in from the left, but Daniel Aye just failed to connect. The ball ran through to Jack Walton, whose angled shot forced Mark Naumowicz to punch clear.
Barkers’ first threat came in the eleventh minute, when Maxim Solovyev appeared to be pushed in the penalty area, but the referee waved play on. Then Barkers lost the ball on the halfway line, and Knox pushed forward to find the dangerous Aye, whose snap shot went well wide. For Barkers, Liam Seaye was hitting in some telling balls from the right and won a corner on 15 minutes. Sean Perrin sent the ball to the far side of the penalty area, where a big leap from Geordie Scott sent the ball wide. Sadly, the Barkers captain would soon after go off injured, to be replaced by Clark.
Knox now had a good period. Barkers defender Brett Tronconi’s attempted headed clearance went backwards into the path of Knox’s Walton, who got behind the Barkers defence and cut inside to cross, but Naumowicz cut the ball out before it could reach the Knox forwards. Then on 21 minutes, a long shot from Aye forced an athletic save from Naumowicz to tip the ball wide.
Now it was Barkers’ turn to threaten. First, Seaye crossed from the left to the near post, where a glancing header from Dan Higgins went wide. Then Solovyev played a one-two with Seaye before getting to the by-line and crossing from the right. Clark came sliding in at the far post but just failed to make contact.
Back came Knox to control the last 15 minutes of the half. On 31 minutes, a point blank shot from Aaron Porcaro drew a superb stop from Naumowicz, then Christian Porcaro had only Naumowicz to beat, but was foiled by a very good last-ditch tackle from Higgins. Two minutes before the break, Knox had a dangerous chance when Aye put Sean Brimmer through on goal, but his shot was put just past the post. Half-time 0-0 in an exciting battle between the local rivals.
As in the first half, Knox began the second half on top. Six minutes in, they hit Barkers on the counterattack and Aye wriggled free of his marker before shooting and drawing another excellent save from Naumowicz. Then a Barkers attack broke down and Knox swept upfield in a lightning counterattack which ripped through the Barkers defence. They seemed certain to score from close range, but once more Naumowicz somehow kept Knox out with an athletic leap to turn the ball wide. Surely a goal would arrive soon? Well yes it did, but not for Knox.
Just before the hour, Perrin had the ball just inside the Knox half. He knocked it forward towards the left corner, and it split two defenders who both missed it, running perfectly into the path of Higgins. He crossed from the left and found Nittoli, who is usually reliable with his shooting, and sure enough he buried the ball into the net to give Barkers a somewhat unexpected lead. Knox switched off and Barkers went for the jugular, as barely a minute later, a cross from the right found Solovyev, who had little trouble in making it 2-0 for Barkers.
Knox seemed stunned, and next it was Sam Klepac who put the ball through for Solovyev to run on to. Unfortunately, the Solovyev Law of Averages decreed that, having just found the net, his next shot would find the creek, and so it transpired. Barkers attacked again when Paul McEvoy put the ball through for Solovyev. He slipped the ball across to Klepac, whose shot forced a good save from Mustafa Zahir in the Knox goal.
Finally Knox broke free of the siege and won a free-kick on the edge of the Barkers penalty area. Aaron Porcaro stepped up and hit a curling shot against the bar. Then with 11 minutes to go, the always tricky Aye slipped the ball to Brimmer, whose low shot was well watched by Naumowicz as he gathered. Then Barkers hit back when Perrin latched on to a loose ball in midfield. He found Seaye on the right wing, who hit a low shot which fizzed past the far post.
Naumowicz’s work wasn’t over, though. With five minutes left, a Knox long shot saw the Barkers keeper tip the ball over his bar. Knox poured forward in vain, and the gaps they left were almost exploited in stoppage time by Buglass, whose low shot was well held by Zahir. Full-time: Mooroolbark 2-0 Knox City.
So Barkers’ remarkable Jekyll-and-Hyde season continues. In eight home games they have won seven and drawn one, but they have lost all six on the road. Solovyev was awarded Best on Ground for Barkers. Naumowicz kept a clean sheet as just reward for another terrific display in goal, while Nittoli gave an assured performance – you knew you could breathe easy whenever he was on the ball. Barkers move up to fifth and next face a Friday night trip into the hills to face bottom side Monbulk Rangers.