Magnificent goals from Nathanial Atkinson and Austin Wong were not enough for City in their round 22 clash with Northcote City FC – going down three goals to two after conceding two late goals to the NPL2 Western Conference leaders.
Despite grabbing the lead in the 82nd minute, City were outplayed for much of the second half – opponents Northcote taking advantage of their size advantage to pressure the young City side and capitalizing on poor clearences to keep the ball in the City half throughout much of the second 45.
Unfortunately, the match also saw two key City players pick up injuries that will likely keep them out of this week’s game – with defender Ali Eyigun suffering an ankle injury and goalkeeper James Delianov suffering a possible concussion on what would be the last piece of play in the game.
With defender Lucas Portillo also nursing a hamstring injury City’s defensive stocks have been severely depleted coming into the game – with Leo Athanasiou, Nenad Nikolic and possibly even utility Atkinson likely to slot into that central defender positions this week – with Yaren Sozer the likely replacement in goal should Delianov be forced to the sidelines.
In more positive news for City however, the game featured the third 2017 debut in four weeks for the side.
After seeing Zachary Bates return in Round 20 and Athanasiou’s in round 21 - coach Lachlan Armstrong brought on striker John Roberts as a 55th minute substitute to make his first appearance at an NPL level.
The striker – who skippered Australia’s U16 Joey’s to the AFF U16 Championship in 2016 and was once described as “One of the hottest prospects in NSW’s football” back in 2013 – appeared at truly ease in his time on the park, playing a role in setting up Wong’s goal and looks to have a bright future ahead of him at City.
Having dropped their past to games to Western Conference opposition, City now find themselves at the top of a cluster of teams chasing third position in the Eastern Conference – with only three points separating their 31 points on the season and this week’s opponents Springvale in sixth position on 28 points.
Springvale have surged up the table in previous weeks after recording back to back three goals to one wins over Melbourne Victory youth in round 21 and Bendigo City in round 22 – also damning Bendigo to relegation to the State Leagues in the process.
The sit behind the fifth placed Goulburn Valley Suns on goal difference – the Shepperton based outfit having suffered a three goals to one defeat at the hands of the Moreland Zebras in round 22.
Fourth placed Murray United sit on 30 points – only one point behind City in third – after recording a three goals to one win over the Whittlesea Ranges in their round 22 game.
Whilst City’s goal difference of +13 gives them a handy advantage over Springvale (-9), Goulburn Valley (+0) and Murray United (+6) – the 18 points still on offer to the chasing pack this season means that any dropped points could prove disastrous at seasons end.
City last met Springvale when they visited the White Eagles in round seven of the current season – recording a three goals to one win thanks to an own goal and strikes by Marko Delic and Gerrie Sylaidos.
Since that game back in March, Springvale have seen head coach Vlado Tortevski leave the club and replaced by former Preston Lions boss Zeljko Popovic.
City will go into the clash looking to contain key White Eagles players such as Jerry Karpeh – with the Springvale number 7 having scored four goals in his past five - attacker Nathaniel Foster Bowen – the Canadian signing with Springvale from Oakleigh in May - and Damir Stoilovic – who has recorded nine goals so far on the campaign.
The two sides second meeting on the season will kick off at 3pm on Pitch One at LaTrobe University in Bundoora – with the Paddy Kisnorbo’s U20 side meeting Springvale’s U20s in a curtain raiser that begins at 1pm.
NPL Victoria - Round 23
Melbourne City vs Springvale White Eagles FC
Sunday 16 July, 2017
LaTrobe University (Pitch One), Bundoora
Seniors: 3pm Under 20’s: 1.00pm