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MD2: Jiangsu Suning Ladies FC 1-1 Melbourne Victory

Yongin: A youthful Melbourne Victory claimed their first AFC Women’s Club Championship point after holding Chinese champions Jiangsu Suning Ladies FC to a 1-1 draw at Yongin Citizens Sports Park on Thursday.

The Australian club opened the scoring through an early Grace Maher header, before Jiangsu failed to find a winning goal despite creating several chances following Tang Jiali’s near-immediate equaliser.

The result leaves Victory on one point from two matches in the FIFA-AFC Pilot Tournament, while Jiangsu were forced to settle for a second draw in three days after sharing the spoils with Nippon TV Beleza on Matchday One.

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Victory arrived hopeful of bouncing back from Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to Incheon Hyundai Steel Angels, but it was a depleted line-up that took to the field for the W-League premiers, with captain Natasha Dowie absent due to illness, Australian international trio Teigen Allen, Casey Dumont and Janna McCormick all on the substitutes bench and 16-year-old debutant Alana Jancevski one several youngsters promoted to the starting side.

Despite their personnel changes, the Melbourne side made a stunning start, taking the lead through Grace Maher, who cleverly headed Melina Ayres' driven near-post corner in off the underside of the crossbar in the 11th minute.

But, in a reverse of the opening stages of their match against Nippon TV Beleza, Jiangsu immediately hit back, levelling just a minute late when Chinese international Tang Jiali’s superb low drive beat Victory goalkeeper Melissa Maizels at her near post from 20 yards.

Maizels was beaten then, but she made important saves to deny Tabitha Chawinga once, and Yang Li on two further occasions, as Jiangsu’s growing dominance of the contest produced a string of opportunities, but no second goal before half-time.

The near misses continued after the interval as Yang failed to get a boot to a tantalising low cross from He Wei, before Tang failed to capitalise when Emma Robers coughed up possession in a dangerous position just before the hour mark.

Jiangsu weren’t making the most of their chances, but it was also Victory’s diligent defending which kept them in the match, with Jeff Hopkins’ young charges putting in a determined performance to keep the Chinese champions at bay.

Hopkins bolstered his defence with the introduction of Allen and McCormick, while Jiangsu boss Jocelyn Precheur brought on Ghanaian star Elizabeth Addo, but the balance of play remained largely uninterrupted, with the Chinese outfit on top as the game reached its closing stages.

Maher fired a free-kick on target to force a rare intervention from Jiangsu goalkeeper Peng Shimeng with four minutes remaining, but it was a last ditch save from Maizels which sealed Victory’s point, with the Victory goalkeeper capping an excellent performance with a low stop to deny Chawinga in stoppage time.

Jocelyn Precheur: Jiangsu Suning LFC head coach

“My first reaction is, of course, disappointment. I think we were better tonight, but as I just explained to my players: in this competition you have to be efficient in front of goal and score. This is the only thing I can blame my players for. We made good opportunities to score. We had a lot, but we didn’t score enough. That’s why we have only a draw. So, yes of course, a little disappointing.”

Jeff Hopkins, Melbourne Victory head coach

“100 per cent (it was a good result). We had something to prove to ourselves today. We were disappointed with the game overall a couple of days ago. We had Natasha Dowie, our captain, out with a stomach virus. On top of that we gave a couple of 16-year-olds debuts today and flipped the side around. What pleased me about the performance is that we stayed in the game and we worked through the periods where our opponents dominated us in the first half. There were a few scary moments in the second half, but in general I thought the girls really did what we asked them to do and looked reasonably comfortable.”

Photos: Korea Football Association

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