Macarthur facing long wait for pitch fix after last-minute ground switch

Macarthur coach Ante Milicic says he cannot put a date on when his team will be able to play an A-League Men fixture at their home ground. Sunday’s season-opener against Wellington had to be played at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium after a pitch inspection on Friday revealed Campbelltown Stadium’s surface to be unplayable.

Campbelltown City Council has blamed low temperatures and high rainfall for the failure of several patches of newly laid grass from bedding in and growing. There are now fears the entire pitch may have to be relaid, which would force the Bulls to move several more home games to other venues.

Speaking after his team’s 1-1 draw with the Phoenix, Milicic said the situation leaves him with an additional challenge to make sure his playing group is focused.

“I couldn’t put a timeframe on how long but all I can say is that I was there on Friday and it looked a long way off,” Milicic said. “When we’ll be back there, that’s something for the stadium and the club to to work on.

“I’ve got a bigger job obviously with my staff to get the playing group focused and to concentrate on the performances that are in front of us.”

The Bulls will travel to Jubilee Stadium on Saturday to play Sydney FC with their next scheduled home match to be against Central Coast on 5 December. It seems highly unlikely that game will be played at Campbelltown, in what is the latest setback to Macarthur after a pre-season marred by difficulties.

The club lost four matches to A-League Men opponents in the pre-season and suffered the shock retirement of goalkeeper and captain Adam Federici last month just days after assistant coach and former captain Mark Milligan quit his role.

“Wherever we play, home or away, whatever the opposition is, we need to make sure that we’re as best prepared as we possibly can to put on a good performance,” Milicic said. “I think under the circumstances we did OK [on Sunday].”

Lachlan Rose’s stunning back-post volley secured the Bulls a 1-1 draw in wet and windy conditions at McDonald Jones Stadium, cancelling out Gary Hooper’s first-half penalty to ensure both teams started their seasons with a point each.

The Phoenix offered more threat than Macarthur in the opening half and nearly took the lead in the eighth minute only for Bulls’ keeper Filip Kurto to make a smart save from point-blank range from veteran English forward Hooper.

Wellington’s efforts were rewarded in the 24th minute however when Olyroo Reno Piscopo was upended by James Meredith. Awarded a free-kick initially, replays showed Meredith’s challenge happened inside the box and a VAR overrule led to a penalty which Hooper duly dispatched powerfully past Kurto.

Piscopo’s substitution early in the second-half came with a change in momentum however as the Bulls stepped up their intensity in the attacking third.

After some desperate defending had kept Ante Milicic’s team at bay, Rose found the net when he finished neatly with his right foot from a deep corner, giving Oli Sail in the Phoenix goal no chance.

There was a worrying moment for the Bulls shortly afterwards when Kurto – who missed significant portions of last season with Western United due to concussion issues – took a blow to the face but the Polish goalkeeper played on.

Both teams largely cancelled each other out in the final half hour, although the Phoenix seemed destined to regain the lead in the 80th minute when two players closed in on the ball a yard out from goal with Kurto stranded but Tomislav Uskok’s desperate clearance denied the visitors.

Kurto had one last job to do in the dying minutes when he palmed away David Ball’s shot to make sure of the draw. Macarthur face Sydney FC next weekend while Wellington will host Western Sydney at their temporary Wollongong base.

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