AIS snares first points

The AIS picked up its first points of the National Youth League season with a hard-fought 2-2 draw against the Central Coast Mariners at Seymour Shaw Park in Sydney.

The AIS picked up its first points of the National Youth League season with a hard-fought 2-2 draw against the Central Coast Mariners at Seymour Shaw Park in Sydney.

The goalscoring action was compacted into the 10-minute spell leading up to the interval with Eli Babalj grabbing a double for the AIS, while Nik Mrdja and Panni Nikas scored for the Mariners.

After three losses from as many starts it was a well-deserved return for the AIS with Jan Versleijen's young side perhaps unlucky not to collect maximum points.

It was the Mariners who enjoyed a brighter opening with Mrdja going around the goalkeeper early on but a heavy touch took the ball over the byline. Mrdja was joined in the Mariners' starting line-up by Shane Huke, who was returning from injury, as the team's only overage players.

Although the Mariners always looked likely early on to unlock the AIS defensive quartet, it was the team from the nation's capital that next looked likely to score. Firstly striker Babalj was through on goal only for Mariners goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, having last faced Brazil at the FIFA U-20 World Cup just seven days earlier, to stand tall and make a solid block.

Undeterred, Babalj nearly scored a few minutes later with a far more awkward chance as his snapshot on the turn from 15 metres inched past the wrong side of the post.

Flanker Kamal Ibrahim then sent a delicious curling effort towards goal from an awkward angle but Redmayne was equal to the task tipping over the crossbar.

It was the Mariners though who broke the deadlock with Mrdja the beneficiary of an inch-perfect Gavin Forbes cross from the right 10 minutes prior to the interval, the one-time Qantas Socceroos striker directing a towering header from just inside the penalty area which crept inside the far post.

Mrdja's strike marked a remarkable run of four goals in the 10-minute period leading up to the break.

Babalj grabbed a quickfire brace as he firstly broke through the middle of the defence and, unlike earlier in the half, the tall striker easily steered past an exposed Redmayne.

The AIS frontman was at it again inside two minutes later, taking advantage of a ponderous Mariners defence to expertly lift a volley over Redmayne who had moved marginally off his line.

The Mariners still found time to reply before the interval with Nikas scoring with a smartly taken snapshot from the edge of the penalty area, the Mariners skipper continuing an impressive goal return with his fourth goal in just three outings.

The lively Ibrahim nearly created a goal just after the break with his low cross taken off the toe of Mustafa Amini by Redmayne, with the subsequent attempted clearance hitting the lurking Jared Lum and ricocheting onto the crossbar.

Lum and substitute Jake Barker-Daish both directed firm shots just wide of the goal as the AIS for a period looked the more likely of the two to break the second-half deadlock.

Despite a half-time downpour making for a wet surface, the dying stages of the match saw end-to-end action as both teams pushed for a winner.

The final minutes saw Nikas seemingly set to create a winner after a mazy run into the box caused a goalmouth scramble with the ball eventually hacked clear. There was still time for Brendan Hamill to blaze a good opportunity wide with the final clear opening of the match.