MATCH REPORT | Senior Men Cross Keys Reserve brings thrills, spills, but no points despite strong Royals showing

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The Essendon Royals won the battle of the second half against Men’s State League 1 North-West leaders Preston Lions but they lost the war under lights at Cross Keys Reserve.

The new facility looked brilliant lit up and played host to two thrilling games of football and entertainment, despite the results not going Essendon’s way.

A bumper crowd rolled into the Royals new home for what turned into a thrilling contest, but the Royals were once against left to rue the cost of a slow opening 30 minutes.

As was the case last week against Brimbank Stallions, the Royals found themselves 1-0 down after just seven minutes, when a failure to convincingly clear their lines allowed Alex Tanevski the chance to bury his opportunity from inside the box.

The opening goal set the tone for much of the first half as the match quickly turned into a back-to-the-walls job for Essendon.

Connor Bell put the visitors 2-0 up after 28 minutes and they only had to wait another nine minutes for their third when Nikola Talimdzioski broke through to make it 3-0 ahead of the half-time break.

Joel Nikolic battled desperately for the Royals up front but was isolated for most of the half, as he found himself moving deeper and deeper to try and support his team-mates, while Graham Kelly showed glimpses of his talent.

It was looking like a bleak picture for the Royals as the minutes ticked down to half-time, but a moment of brilliance would give Vaughan Coveny’s men a glimmer of hope heading into the second half when the referee awarded the Royals a free-kick almost 30 yards out from goal.

Kelly lined it up and beautifully dispatched an unbelievable curling strike off the upright to send the Royals into the break 3-1 down with something to chase.

Goalscorers Graham Kelly and Gaku Matsuda

Goalscorers Graham Kelly and Gaku Matsuda

The goal and Coveny’s half-time team talk inspired the Royals into a much-improved second half performance.

The Royals rediscovered their intensity and pressed Preston at every opportunity to force turnovers all over the ground.

Gaku Matsuda was chief troublemaker for the Royals in the middle of the park, covering every blade of grass in yet another impressive performance from the former Brunswick City man.

The man from Japan’s imperious box-to-box performance was rewarded with a goal following a brilliant counter-attack led by Kelly, who drove at the goal and released a brilliantly timed pass for Matsuda to slot home early in the second half.

The goal lifted the mood at Cross Keys and suddenly the Royals looked like they might get something out of the game.

The Royals pressed desperately for an equaliser, but strikes on goal from Kelly, Ryan McEvoy, Tedros Yabio and others were all turned away by the brilliant Preston goalkeeper Dom Kurasik.

The Lions truly had their keeper to thank for leaving Cross Keys with three points, such was the quality and quantity of the saves he pulled off to deny the Royals during a frantic second half.

At the other end, Royals own keeper Andre Jannesse was forced into one save of note in particular, but was largely untroubled as the half wore on.

The best chance of the half fell to McEvoy late on as the Royals conjured another brilliant break, but the usually dependable midfielder just could not find the finish.

The Royals simply ran out of time in the end.

While the second half performance offered plenty of positives for coach Coveny, the former New Zealand international said frustration was the overwhelming feeling after yet another slow start.

“The second half was a lot better, but to be 3-0 down after 30 minutes or so makes it a difficult task against the top team in the competition,” he said.

“Again, we didn’t get off to a good start, we conceded within 10 minutes and it was just going to be a battle from then on.

“But in saying that, we got a goal back just before half-time adn we came out much better in the second half.

“We had a bit of momentum and it looked like we might get something out of the game, but credit to them, they defended well, their keeper was magnificent and in the end we’re disappointed because we come away with nothing.”

Coveny reserved special praise for goalscorers Kelly and Matsuda, with the latter particulalrly impressing with his work rate.

“He’s been outstanding since he has come from Brunswick. He works hard and gets on with the job,” he said.

“But everyone matched that in the second half, the issue is not everyone did in the first half”

Coveny said he hoped to see a first half like the second half next week when the Royals take on Whittlesea United SC.

In the earlier game, the Royals went down 4-2 in the reserves. The Royals started brightly, taking a 1-0 lead, before finding themselves 2-1 down.

Essendon managed to make it 2-2 before half-time, but were overrun in the second half.

Despite the results, the night proved a successful one for the club off the field with a fantastic turnout of supporters as the Royals showed off their terrific new facility with pride.

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