Melbourne City FC’s unbeaten Foxtel National Youth League title-defence came to an end on Sunday afternoon, as Joe Palatsides’ reigning champions fell one goal short in a nine-goal thriller against 10-men Melbourne Victory at Lakeside Stadium.
In an enthralling, end-to-end contest between two attack-minded teams, both Melbourne clubs exchanged opportunities early in the match, before Victory made the most of theirs in the final 10 minutes before the break, racing to a 3-0 half-time lead.
Connor Pain, Joey Katebian and Kieren Dover struck for the home side, the latter one minute into added time, to open up a sizeable gap between the two teams, who, up to that point, had been inseparable - at least on the score sheet.
It was to become worse for City just a minute into the second half as Pain netted his second and Victory's fourth, but a sensational free-kick from Ben Garuccio in the 53rd minute gave the visitors the faintest of hopes of a comeback with the score at 4-1.
It would be almost 20 minutes before Wade Dekker’s goal in the 72nd minute gave credence to the fight-back, but with the score line still at 4-2 in Victory’s favour, there was still a significant deficit to overturn.
A minute later and momentum swung again in City’s favour as Victory were reduced to ten men; Scott Galloway receiving his marching orders for a second yellow card and suddenly the home side faced a numerical disadvantage and a restructured formation.
Ten minutes later and it was game on, as Chris Cristaldo netted from the penalty spot against his old club to put City within touching distance of an unlikely draw, with the scores at 4-3.
But the comeback unravelled when an error from goalkeeper Anthony Casset – who headed his attempted clearance into the path of dangerous Victory forward Katebian in the 91st minute – was punished, and the Victory striker lapped up the opportunity, lobbing in his second goal to seal the result.
Tellingly, Katebian’s celebration was one reflective of relief, more than jubilation, as he fell to his knees in what was likely a combination of relief and exhaustion – with Victory having been on the back foot for the final 17 minutes with 10-men and under pressure from City.
There was one final twist to the narrative as City won a penalty deep into injury time and Cristaldo again netted to reduce the arrears.
But the celebrations were somewhat muted from City’s bench as the goal merely proved a consolation. Despite the team throwing the ball forward in the hope of the elusive equaliser, the match finished 5-4 in Victory's favour.
In what was an intriguing affair from the first to the last whistle, both teams fielded a mix of youth and experience, with City opting to start A-League contracted players Ben Garuccio, Steve Kuzmanoski and Wade Dekker. Victory fielded A-League players Lawrence Thomas, Giancarlo Gallifuoco and Pain.
The home side carved the first opening of the encounter, with a slick interchange down Victory’s left wing – involving Pain – who released Katebian, whose low left-footed drive was blocked by Phil Petreski.
City threatened early too, through promising young centre midfielder Ali Eygun who collected a loose ball in the final third and drove a great left-footed shot at knee height just wide of Thomas’ upright.
Another chance fell to the visitors in the 12th minute, as Garuccio moved a free-kick quickly from the half-way line, before the ball was sprayed to the right to Steve Kuzmanovski who feigned twice before releasing a shot which Thomas had to collect on the second attempt.
It was proving to be end-to-end, with Victory finding most of its success through high balls over the top of City’s defence, and Leo Anthanasiou, Garuccio and Petreski were all forced into last-ditch tackles to deny Victory inside the first 30 minutes.
Kuzmanovski found some joy on the right flank, outpacing Thomas Deng, before firing in a shot which was blocked by Thomas’ midriff, but perhaps the winger should have cut to one of his teammates.
City nearly fashioned a beautiful opener with a slick interchange as Zinni cut inside from the left, played a neat one-two with Dekker before exchanging further passes with Kuzmanovski, but the final shot was tame and Thomas collected.
It was shortly after that Victory made the breakthrough in the 36th minute, as Casset could only parry a deflected strike and Pain swept home the rebound at the back post. A minute later and Katebian flicked in Victory’s second after City failed to clear the same player's earlier cross.
Dover made it three with a tap in from virtually the goal-line and at the break, City looked down and out.
Pain struck a curling shot past Casset in the first minute of the second half to make it 4-0, but the goal of the match – and the catalyst for City’s response – was Garuccio’s booming, dipping and swerving 25 metre free-kick which sizzled past Thomas in the 53rd minute.
Palatsides removed Kuzmanovski, Garuccio and the livewire Zinni for Cristaldo, Denis Genreau and Luke Gallo just after the hour mark and City looked to assert itself, despite the scoreline.
Thomas had to thwart Dekker twice before, but the striker made an important breakthrough with a lobbed finish to reduce the score to 4-2.
Cristaldo converted from the penalty spot after Dover was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box, before Cristaldo – who was playing with intent against old side – nearly set up the equaliser with a fizzing cross which just evaded Dekker in the six-yard box.
Katebian sealed the result, capitalising on Casset’s clearance, before Cristaldo coolly slotted the consolation, as City fell just short of a historic comeback.
Foxtel National Youth League – Round 4
Sunday, 29 November 2015
Melbourne Victory 5 (Connor Pain 36’, 46’, Joey Katebian 38’, 90+1’, Kieren Dover 45+1’)
Melbourne City FC 4 (Ben Garrucio 53’, Wade Dekker 72’, Chris Cristaldo 83’ [PEN], 90+3’ [PEN])
Venue: Lakeside Stadium, Melbourne
Referee: Lachlan KEEVERS