Melbourne City FC has suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Wellington Phoenix at QBE Stadium on Saturday night.
With third place on the ladder assured, City looked eager to carry their recent run of form into next week’s Elimination Final. Following a dominant opening 20 minutes, Bruno Fornaroli fired the visitor’s ahead with a brilliant curling finish from the edge of the area.
Despite City’s early dominance, Wellington hit back in the 33rd minute when Sarpreet Singh produced a neat turn and finish from inside the penalty box to send the hosts into the half-time break with the scores locked at 1-1.
Singh would double his total and hand the home side a 2-1 lead when his deflected strike beat Dean Bouzanis in the 58th minute.
City will look to bounce back when they host a do-or-die Elimination Final at AAMI Park next Friday, 20 April, kick-off 7:50pm.
Following a string of four successive matches unchanged, Head Coach Warren Joyce made one change to the starting XI for City’s match against Wellington with the returning Osama Malik replacing captain Michael Jakobsen in defence. Malik has not featured for City since he injured his leg in the warm-up of the Club’s Round 20 clash against Sydney FC on Saturday, 10 February.
Attacker Bruce Kamau was also added to the squad, replacing Marcin Budzinski on the bench.
Following a string of three consecutive wins, Warren Joyce and his men travelled across the Tasman determined to continue their run of form and carry the momentum into next Friday’s Elimination Final with third place assured.
Before proceedings commenced, the two teams shared a moment’s silence in honour of Russell Gray who was a kit manager and media manager at Wellington.
From the onset in Auckland, City’s attacking intent was clear. The away side’s first chance of the match came in the third minute, when Brattan’s effort from 20 yards was just wide of the top corner following a delightful link up between Scott Jamieson and Dario Vidosic.
City continued to pile the pressure on the hosts in the early stages, and four minutes later they went close to finding the breakthrough. Daniel Arzani did brilliantly on the right wing to skip past Liberato Cacace before his attempted pass to Stefan Mauk was well read by Andrew Durante.
Wellington’s defence – most notably the left side of their defence – was under pressure again in the ninth minute when Nathaniel Atkinson skipped past Cacace before finding Bruno Fornaroli at the back post. The striker attempted an audacious chip, but his effort was wide.
Despite City’s early dominance, the side from Melbourne had Dean Bouzanis to thank for not falling behind in the 11th minute. Sarpreet Singh played a brilliant cross from the left wing, finding Roy Krishna in the penalty box. The Fijian’s header from point blank range looked destined for the back of the net before Bouzanis produced an outstanding reflex save.
The action packed start to the first-half continued when Arzani skipped past a couple of defenders in the box before cutting the ball back to Oliver Bozanic, who forced a sharp save out of Oliver Sail.
City’s dominance would eventually prevail when Bruno Fornaroli fired the team in City blue ahead in the 20th minute. Dylan Fox’s attempted clearance fell to the Uruguayan on the edge of the area, before he curled home a tremendous finish that cannoned into the back of the net off the inside of the far post.
City’s inability to make the most of two corners would come back to haunt them when the home side equalised through Singh in the 33rd minute. Krishna pounced on a stray back pass before finding Singh in the penalty area, the youngster then did well to turn Jamieson before firing the ball past Bouzanis to make it 1-1.
Wellington didn’t have many flurries forward, but when they did the home side looked increasingly dangerous. Cacace had a chance to put the Phoenix ahead in the 42nd minute, but his shot was fired straight at Bouzanis who did well to keep the ball out.
City would continue to press in the attacking third – with youngsters Daniel Arzani and Nathaniel Atkinson looking most threatening down the right wing – but were unable to capitalise and regain their lead before the half-time break.
Just as they did in the first period, Warren Joyce’s men started the second-half with attacking intent.
Arzani and Atkinson produced two successive chances in the opening minutes of the second period. The first chance came when Arzani picked the ball up at half way before producing a driving run towards the box. Singh eventually fouled him on the edge of the area, as Jamieson’s resulting set-piece was fired well over the crossbar. Moments later Atkinson produced a solid run, but his attempted cross was well cleared.
In the 53rd minute, City’s defence opened up and Matija Ljujic tried his luck from 20 yards. The striker put plenty of pace behind his shot but Bouzanis was yet again equal to the task.
The free flowing contest continued and one minute later Bruno Fornaroli had a golden chance to put the visitor’s ahead. Atkinson forced Sail into making a save, which fell to the striker in front of an open net, but his effort from close range was fired over the crossbar.
Fornaroli’s inability to find the back of the net was compounded when Singh notched his second, to hand the home side a 2-1 lead in the 58th minute. The youngster tried his luck from just outside the box before the ball took a wicked deflection off Bart Schenkeveld, leaving Bouzanis with very little chance of making the save.
City immediately responded to falling behind when Fornaroli teed up Arzani on the edge of the area, but the 19-year-old’s stinging effort was well saved by Sail.
As the game progressed, the chances continued and Bouzanis was again the saviour. This time Burns played Krishna into the box, but his fierce effort was brilliantly saved by the City shot-stopper.
The away side were again let off the hook in the 72nd minute, as Krishna fired the ball over the crossbar from point blank range following Singh’s perfectly weighted cross.
City continued to search for the equaliser and in the 77th minute Fornaroli had another chance in front of goal, this time the striker met Brattan’s corner but his header was just wide.
Four minutes later it was the Uruguayan again – Arzani teed up Fornaroli on the edge of the area, but Sail saved his low drive.
City looked desperate to find the equaliser in the closing stages, going agonisingly close from doing so in the 87th minute. Brattan produced a perfectly weighted cross which missed Vidosic’s attempted header by a matter of inches.
In the 93rd minute Brattan and Fornaroli again combined, but the striker’s glancing header drifted wide. Vidosic struck the post with a towering header moments later, summarising a night of missed opportunities for the away side.
City next hosts a crucial Elimination Final at AAMI Park on Friday, 20 April, kick-off 7:50pm (AEDT). Elimination Final ticketing details will be released on Sunday with all pre-sale information.