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NJL Match Report: Royals go down fighting as Australia Cup run ends against NPLV’s Avondale FC

Essendon Royals put in a mammoth shift against National Premier Leagues Victoria Avondale FC, but just couldn’t get the job done, with the favourites preventing the dreaded ‘cup-set’, winning 4-2.

The score was locked at 2-2 until the 88th minute, demonstrating just how close the State League 1 outfit pushed the NPLV side in front of another massive crowd at Cross Keys Reserve.

The loudest cheers of the night game for Luca Santilli and Ryan McEvoy, whose goals levelled the scores at 1-1 and 2-2, respectively.

Avondale’s goals came courtesy of Manyulak Aguek, Liston Diaz (2) and Ahmed Yusuf.

With suspensions and injuries to contend with, Ferrante had little choice but to go young with his starting XI, which featured the likes of Jack Warrick and Jake Montagnese in defence and the energetic due of Josh Markovski and Ziyad Eltahir upfront.

An experienced midfield of Ryan McEvoy and Matteo Ballan was flanked by Luca Santilli and Nobuyuki Usui, with the quartet putting in an enormous shift from kick-off to give the Royals a strong base to build from going forward.

Within just seven minutes, McEvoy forced the first of what would end up being several brilliant saves from Avengers shot-stopper Bon Scott before the Royals peppered the Avondale goal from a series of corners.

Avondale hit the post via Aguek in the 14th minute before the Royals countered well to force Scott into more good saves via Eltahir.

Markovski’s energy and willingness to run at players had the Avondale back-pedalling at times, and but for some close offside calls, he might have been in to score the all-important opener.

The opening goal eventually came from the spot via Aguek after 27 minutes.

The half was closed out with the main chances falling to the Royals, Santilli forcing a good save in the 38th minute before Montagnese hit a shot wide of the target in stoppage time.

German Schacht closed out the half with a quality save from an Avondale free-kick.

The Royals went into the break 1-0 down, but with a sense that there was everything to play for in the second half.

Ballan struck the first shot – arguably the best-hit effort of the game – after 49 minutes but was brilliantly denied by Scott with his save of the game. Scott was forced into action 10 minutes later from a McEvoy free-kick.

Scott couldn’t stop the next Royals opportunity from finding the back of the net when a floated cross from Montagnese found Santilli at the back post.

The winger made no mistake, volleying home to level the scores.

Parity was short-lived for the Royals, as Avondale picked Essendon off on the counter, with a surging run from Aguek opening the chance to cross to an unmarked Diaz at the far post for the simplest of finishes.

The Royals were awarded a free kick in the 77th minute just outside the box.

With Graham Kelly out with suspension, McEvoy stepped up to the plate and rifled home a beautiful free-kick into the bottom-left corner, sparking huge celebrations from the Royals.

With parity restored, Avondale was able to find another gear the Royals couldn’t and put the Royals under immense pressure.

Schacht was forced into several incredible saves, whilst Kristian Konstantinidis was on hand to clear another off the line as the Royals looked to hold the scoreline until full-time.

It was not to be, however, as Avondale managed to break away from a Royals attack to find plenty of space in behind.

Yusuf made no mistake when the chance presented itself, rounding Schacht and slotting home.

The fourth came from a similar break away, as the Royals committed the whole team forward for a late set-piece, only for the ball to be cleared and allow Yusuf to put the nail in the Royals’ Australia Cup campaign.

Despite the result, the Royals put on a strong showing against a team several divisions above and can now return all focus to their league campaign, starting with Clifton Hill this Saturday.