MATCH REPORT | Royals go down fighting in North Sunshine

North Sunshine 4 ( Epifano 12’ (PK), Rexhepi 34’, Dragovic 71’ (PK), Memishi 78’) Essendon Royals 2 (McEvoy 23’, Nikolic 44’)

Essendon Royals put up a strong fight against the more-fancied North Sunshine Eagles at Larisa Reserve on Saturday but came up empty-handed.

The Royals battled back from a goal down twice to head into the break level at 2-2 but came undone in the second half as the Eagles picked their moments on the break.

The day got off to a rough start when Jamie Gazelle was judged to have fouled his opponent when he nicked the ball from behind inside the box.

Former South Melbourne man Nicholas Epifano stood up to knock the penalty home beyond the outstretched Andre Jannese to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.

The Royals responded well and slowly worked their way back into the game. An early injury blow forced Chris Talajic off the ground with Joel Nikolic replacing him.

Nikolic moved into the centre-forward position while Tedros Yabio moved out wide. While the move was forced by injury, it proved a good one for the Royals as Yabio proved a handful down the left flank, combining well with Nikolic who managed to win a number of flick-ons and fouls to help advance the Royals position.

Tedros Yabio was a handful for the Eagles defence

Tedros Yabio was a handful for the Eagles defence

The Royals rode their luck at the other end where Eagles striker Ajak Panek missed some good chances to advance his team’s position.

Essendon made the Eagles pay for their misses when Ryan McEvoy tucked away Essendon’s best chance of the half following some brilliant work from Yabio to weave his way to the byline down the left.

Parity should have been short-lived when the Eagles were awarded their second penalty of the day for what was called a handball.

The referee referred the decision to his linesman, despite being in the better spot to see the incident, and judged that Yabio had handled the ball in the box.

Epifano stepped up for his second spot-kick of the day but spurned his chance by hitting the post.

The Eagles didn’t have to wait long for another chance though as Eagles captain Shane Rexhepi scored a goal from a corner after the Royals failed to clear their lines effectively.

The Royals battled hard and Nikolic had two decent chances with his head which he couldn’t convert but the target man would not be denied again as he equalised with the last chance of the half following some more good play from the Royals.

Goal-scorer McEvoy

Goal-scorer McEvoy

The second half promised plenty for the Royals and Vaughan Coveny’s men worked themselves into some promising positions, but too often the final ball was lacking as Graham Kelly, Nikolic and Co. struggled to penetrate a fortified Eagles defence.

The more the Royals committed forward, the more dangerous the Eagles looked at the counter-attack and they struck a double blow within six minutes to put the game beyond the Royals.

The first came when the Eagles countered with blistering pace to put one of their attackers through on goal.

Jannese rushed out to smother the ball. He got his hands on the ball but made contact with the attacker in doing so. The referee didn’t hesitate to point to the spot for the third time on the day.

Penalty taking duties fell to substitute Daniel Dragovic this time and he made no mistake from the spot, slotting it in off the post.

Another Royals attack minutes later resulted in a goal at the other end once again as Diellon Memishi finished off a sweeping counter-attack to seal the game.

Coach Coveny said it was a frustrating result from a mixed performance.

“The first-half performance was good. We had to come back from behind twice, but it was a good sign that we could fight back and get ourselves back into the game,” he said.

“We came out the second half and we were right in the game. Really, it was in the balance, but the third penalty hurt us.

“I don’t know if it was a penalty but there was contact so I guess they can give it against you. Then they got us on the counter.

“When you concede three penalties it’s tough. They looked dangerous going forward and I think we nullified that for most of the day but to come away with nothing and still concede four is disappointing.”

Coveny wasn’t sure that 4-2 was a fair reflection of the game.

“At half-time, we thought we were right in it and maybe could even win it,” he said.

“It’s a funny game. You can’t have any lapses of concentration in the game and we did at two key moments.

“We’ll analyse it and fix it next week. That’s half the season gone so we know we need to have a stronger second half of the season.”

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