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Panthers, Reds battle to draw

The UPEI Panthers came ready to play on Friday night at BMO Centre.

The Panthers battled back from a 1-0 first half deficit and tied the UNB Varsity Reds 2-2. For the Reds, who entered the game with a perfect 4-0-0 record, it was their first blemish of the 2014 Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season.

“It was a typical AUS soccer game,” said UNB coach Miles Pinsent after the match. “I think UPEI showed up well-organized, willing to work hard and do what they felt they needed to do to get a good result today.”

Pinsent added that the Reds didn’t play at the standard he expects from them for parts of the game.

“I’m a little bit disappointed in the way in which my team showed up today. I thought we were sloppy, had uncharacteristic turnovers, defensive lapses, and just weren’t really in sync and playing with each other like we’re capable of.”

UNB got off to a bit of a slow start but still managed to score the opening goal of the match. In the 20th minute, Marcus Lees took a pass from Oliver Jones and fired a low shot that beat UPEI goalkeeper Trevor White. Shots in the opening half were 4-3 in favour of the Reds.

The V-Reds have given equal playing time to keepers Aaron McMurray and Brandon Eagle this season. With this being UNB’s only game of the weekend, the team replaced McMurray with Eagle to start the second half.

Eagle was tested early. In the 52nd minute, a long strike from Dylan MacKenzie went off Eagle’s hands and in to tie the match at 1-1. Then in the 57th minute, Jared Murphy chipped the ball over the Reds keeper to give the Panthers a 2-1 advantage.

Twenty minutes later, UNB countered as Lees centered the ball for Jones who kicked the ball in and tied things at 2-2.

The Reds had a few quality chances late in the game to earn the victory but it wasn’t meant to be on this day. Lees fired a nice-looking shot high in the 80th minute while Jones’ header in the 84th was stopped by the Panthers’ goalkeeper.

Pinsent said he has been pleased with how UNB has handled trailing in games so far this season.

“I think we definitely had the initiative over the final 15 minutes to try and get another one. The boys stay calm in those moments and stick to the game plan.”

Despite picking up just one point this past weekend, UNB remains atop the AUS standings with a 4-0-1 record for 13 points.

Up next for the team is a pair of road games this weekend. They’ll take on the StFX X-Men on Friday night and the Mount Alison Mounties on Saturday afternoon. Pinsent said the two games could prove to be crucial moving forward.

“It’s a big road trip for us. StFX will be difficult and playing at Mount Alison is never an easy game.

“Based upon what we’ve already done this season, this could be a critical weekend for us where it really separates us from some of the other teams in the race or it could bring us back to the middle of the pack.”

The Reds won’t see the Panthers again until Oct. 17 in Charlottetown. UPEI is hosting this year’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s soccer nationals, so it’s certainly possible the two could meet an additional time come playoff season.

“They’re a well-organized unit — that’s really what they are,” said Pinsent. “They’ve got a couple individuals that can make things happen and they’re a difficult team to break down and get a flow going against.”

The men’s team’s next home game is on Sunday, Oct. 5 against Dalhousie.

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