Melbourne City have suffered a late Melbourne Derby loss, as a 95th minute Mark Milligan penalty secured a 1-0 win for Victory.
The second derby of the 2017/18 A-League season was a game of two halves, with Victory on top in the first period.
A second half City fightback allowed the City fans that were amongst the 22,515 that had packed into AAMI park to hope for an early Christmas present, only to see their comeback efforts cruelly cut short by the late penalty.
After it was feared that the striker had ruptured his ACL against Sydney FC, Ross McCormack capped off his Lazarus-like week by being named on the bench.
Replacing him in the starting line-up was Bruce Kamau, the 22-year-old given the responsibility of leading the City line after missing the past two weeks with a bone bruise.
With Manny Muscat suspended for the next two matches after his red card against Sydney FC, young phenom Nathanial Atkinson slotted back into the starting line-up in the right back position – tasked with keeping the Victory’s dangerous Leroy George at bay in his third A-League appearance.
With City and Victory fans in fine voice, both sides made a positive start to the game, pushing hard early and creating a series of half chances as the ball rapidly moved from end to end in the games opening stanza.
City were looking to build on their early season Derby dominance that had seen their Men’s, Women’s and Youth sides all record wins over the Victory, whilst Victory were looking win in Melbourne for the first time in 237 days - their last win in Melbourne coming against the Brisbane Roar in the 2016/17 semi final.
And it was Victory that had the games first clear goalscoring opportunity, James Troisi finding himself free in the penalty area in the 13th minute and driving a low and hard shot goalward that forced Dean Bouzanis to dive low to his right to save it.
It would take until the 25th minute for City to win their first corner of the contest, a series of clever back heels down the left between Scott Jamison and Michael Jakobsen leading to Nick Fitzgerald winning a corner, however Luke Brattan’s set piece was only direct towards Thomas.
Four minutes later however, Victory would have what would be the best chance of the first half.
Geria and Barbarouses combined dangerously on the right once again, before Barbarouses played a dangerous ball into the area in front of George.
The Victory marquee thundered the ball towards goal, only to see his shot bounce off the crossbar and back into play.
City would look to answer back immediately however, when Atkinson broke down the right into open space.
Unable to find anyone in the middle, the youngster played the ball back to Kamau who lofted the ball towards Jakobson at the far post.
Jakobson squared the ball with his head, but there were no City shirts waiting in the middle with Victory able to clear.
Despite this, it was Victory maintaining the ascendancy in the first half, looking the more dangerous of the two sides throughout, with Jamison and Jakobson providing the most resistance for City as the half progressed.
Despite Victory being on top, City were almost able to steal a late goal in the 46th minute after winning a corner.
Brattan floated the set piece to the top of the six-yard box, and the tall Iacopo La Rocca rose to meet it; only for his clean header to sail just over the bar.
It was City’s best chance of a disappointing first half, with the Victory clearly the better side in the first 45.
Whatever was said by Joyce in the rooms at half time seemed to light a spark under the City boys however, with City forcing their way back into the game as the game resumed in the second half.
City were further boosted in the 52nd minute when McCormack, who it was feared had ruptured his ACL only last week, completed one of the great recoveries in A-League history when he replaced Stefan Mauk.
His health was immediately tested by the Victory’s Thomas Deng, who clattered into the Scotsman as soon as he got his first touch on the ball.
Countering, City would win a free kick on the edge of the area when George collected Brattan, earning the game’s first yellow card.
Stepping up to take it, the left footed Jamison curled the ball around the wall with his left foot, only for Thomas to anticipate the effort and make an easy save at the near post.
City would go close again three minutes later in the 63rd minute when McCormack was played through into space on the right.
Dinking the ball over the Victory defence was the outside of his boot, the Scot was able to find Kamau in the middle of the pitch.
Kamau took a touch to collect himself and shot, only for his effort to be deflected out for a corner.
Increasingly getting back into the game, City would again have a chance three minutes later.
Brattan collected the ball on the right wing and played a low ball into the area.
With the ball pinballing around, both McCormack and Kamau would take stabs at it, only for the Victory to eventually clear.
Not out of the game, the Victory would soon go close to grabbing the lead when Barbarouses launched a dinky flick towards goal that went over the bar and again two minutes later in the 71st when he was played through free in the box, only to be whistled for offside.
City gradually seized more and more of control as the game rolled onwards, with the late intervention of Carl Valeri doing enough to put Fitzgerald off his shot and allow Thomas to tip it over the bar in the 87th minute.
Disaster would strike late for City however, as Victory were awarded a penalty.
Coming out to collect a free kick played in to the top of the City area, Bouzanis was unable to collect it cleanly, the ball spilling out to the corner of the area.
Scrambling to collect it, Bouzanis would jump up into the air in an attempt to pressure Victory substitute Milligan, who was closest to the ball, and clip the back of the Socceroos heels; sending him to the turf inside the area.
Referee Jarred Gillett pointed for the spot to award the Victory a 95th minute penalty.
Stepping up to take it, Milligan would make no mistake – sending Bouzanis the wrong way to win the match for the Victory.
City will next return to action on January 1, when both City’s Men and Women travel to the Harbour City to take on the Western Sydney Wanderers in a huge New Years Day double header at ANZ Stadium. Women’s to kick-off at 5.20, with the Men taking the field at 7.50.
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