An early goal from Penn State was cancelled out by a Jack Hallahan deflected equalizer as the Wolverines drew with Penn State 1-1 in their first home match in a week-and-a-half.
Penn State’s gut punch came just three minutes into the match and seemed to catch Michigan asleep. Jeremy Rafanello, freshman striker, slipped in a lovely ball to the feet of Christian Sload in the box. Isolated one-on-one with Daniel Mukuna, the big forward made an outstanding turn and slipped the ball into the corner of the net, stunning the Michigan faithful.
Michigan would have plenty of fight in them immediately following. Jack Hallahan just a minute later was freed up by a nice wing swapping pass by Marcello Borges, but his shot was sent straight to the keeper. It was plenty of positive from the Wolverines as a counter, but they could not seem to get that one key chance.
Positive build in the 24th, a nice cross from Umar Farouk Osman aimed for Mohammed Zakyi, was marred by Zakyi coming off immediately following. Zakyi would remain out the rest of the match. In the 34th Hallahan had a well-delivered cross punched away by keeper Josh Levine and while Osman and Robbie Mertz tried to steer a shot on target, and shouts of handball emanated from the Michigan players, the best chance of the match to that point went wanting.
The second half saw similar frustration from Michigan as they tried to get something going. Penn State saw the first solid chance with a pair of on target shots both blocked by reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, Jackson Ragen. In the 66th minute, though, the maize and blue almost found a breakthrough with three straight chances. Noah Kleedtke directed a shot on target from point blank range and it took a great save from Levine to keep it out of the net. Then it was a Mertz cross that was just out of the reach of Osman’s head and just too early for Kleedtke to get a boot too. While the chances could not find the back of the net, these were promising signs out of the Michigan attack.
Just four minutes later, the breakthrough would come. Jack Hallahan sent in a teasing cross from the right side of the wing and while it didn’t find a Michigan head, it found a Penn State head in the box and made it’s way into the back of the net. Hallahan got credit for the goal, and it was well-deserved for him. He was Michigan’s sharpest player all night and deserved a reward for his play.
Michigan saw the lion’s share of possession and really dominated the match from the goal-onward, but could not get that game-winning chance on target. The wind continued to pick up and long balls did not easily find their target for Michigan. Instead, we entered overtime.
The first period saw a couple of good chances for Penn State, both coming from captain Ethan Molloy. First was his free kick that went just wide of Henry Mashburn in net, the other a great point blank header that Mashburn needed to get down well to his left for. Still, neither side could find the golden goal and another ten minutes were on the cards.
The second overtime saw Mashburn make another key save on Molloy, this time punching away a dangerous long shot from the Irishman. Michigan had their handful of chances too, but they were well read by Levine. It was a back-and-forth overtime period and Michigan’s final chances coming off a corner and its resulting second opportunities, plus a final corner taken, but not fully delivered into the box, by Penn State ensured a draw.
Michigan got caught napping almost immediately, and it cost them dearly. Sload’s finish was sublime, but it is disappointing for the Wolverines to concede almost immediately. The response was strong in the first half, but the Wolverines couldn’t link together those passes getting forward to find a response, and that was a theme in the match until the 70 minute breakthrough. The five minute spell of about three chances and a half chance was brilliant from the home side, but they just couldn’t find that form earlier in the match, nor could they in the later stages to get a winner.
One Michigan player who stood out for all the right reasons was Jack Hallahan. The Englishman has never looked fitter. On a day where the wind was whipping and long balls were unpredictable and crosses hung in the air, Hallahan’s first touch was able to keep wing switching an option for the Wolverines. He was consistently willing to get forward for the Wolverines and even with Penn State overplaying his left foot, he was able to provide stellar delivery all night, and with a goal to his name, the stat sheet is kind to him as well.
What worked for Penn State? Between Christian Sload, the goal scorer, Jeremy Rafanello, and Mac Curran, the Nittany Lions offered a steady stream of strong and speedy forwards to consistently give Michigan problems in the gaps behind full back, especially on the counter while Marcello Borges pushed forward. We saw some similarities to the set up of Tulsa in the set up of Penn State: a higher press with pacey players not allowing Michigan the time they desired on the ball and good closing down of passing lanes in the final third. Still, the response from Michigan was good and they eventually managed to snag a foothold in the match. They will not be thrilled with a draw, but getting a point from an earlier losing position is surely better than none at all.
Michigan returns to action on Tuesday the 25th back at UMSS in a nationally televised meeting with Ohio State. The match will take place at 7 PM and is set to be televised on ESPNU for those unable to attend.