Melbourne City has been knocked out of the 2018/19 Hyundai A-League Finals Series following a gut-wrenching 1-0 extra-time loss to Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium on Sunday night.
Following a tale of missed opportunities for both sides after 90-minutes, the Elimination Final went to extra time, where the hosts snatched the win to book a place in the semi-finals following a 119th minute strike from Ben Halloran.
Head Coach Warren Joyce made six changes to the starting XI, as City were bolstered by the return of Harrison Delbridge, Ritchie De Laet, Curtis Good, Jamie Maclaren, Eugene Galekovic and Florin Berenguer to the starting line-up.
Rostyn Griffiths and Mark Birighitti returned to the squad, named on the bench alongside captain Scott Jamieson, Lachlan Wales and Dario Vidosic.
It was the hosts who got off to the stronger of the two starts, dominating the first six-minutes of play in Hindmarsh. Under enormous pressure at the back, led by Harrison Delbridge, City held firm dealing with the Reds early attacking onslaught to work their way back into the contest.
In the ninth minute, returning attacker Jamie Maclaren forced a turnover in the middle of the park, the ball then fell to Luke Brattan who spotted Paul Izzo off his line. From distance, Brattan tried his luck, although his effort sailed high.
The best chance of the half came in the 14th minute, when Craig Goodwin split City’s defence open with a piercing through ball which was met by Ben Halloran, although much to City’s delight his effort cannoned into the crossbar.
City responded with a couple of half-chances, Brattan’s curling effort from range was well collected by Izzo before the ball was caught in City’s attacking six-yard box, with neither Florin Berenguer or Maclaren able to get a meaningful foot to it. As the half progressed, Berenguer worked his way into the match by exploiting the space on the left-wing, as Brattan continued to pull the strings in midfield.
In a first-half that lacked many clear-cut chances in front of goal, both teams headed into the half-time break all square at 0-0.
It took just 30 seconds for Riley McGree to demonstrate City's attacking intent in the second-half. The attacker collected the ball before curling in an effort from range which was saved Izzo.
Moments later Delbridge was again called into action, this time producing a desperate slide and block to deny Craig Goodwin the opener. The in-form defender then turned attacker teeing up Berenguer, whose shot dribbled inches away from the far post - much to a flat-footed Izzo's delight.
With eight minutes of regulation time to play, Maclaren's deflected strike was collected by a scrambling Izzo before McGree's cutback was well dealt with by the Reds defence.
Much-like the first period, neither team was able to make the most of their chances in the second-half as the Elimination Final remained 0-0 after 90-minutes.
Prior to the first period of extra time, Joyce made his first change of the match as Berenguer was replaced by Lachlan Wales. The youngster looked to make an immediate impact after he was superbly played through by Luke Brattan, although his tame effort was saved.
City's most threatening chance of the contest came 109 minutes into the match, as Shayon Harrison did brilliantly to skip past his marker on the wing before cutting in and producing a threatening curling effort which looked destined to find the top corner, only to be denied by the man of the moment, Paul Izzo in goal.
With one minute of extra time to play, the Reds snatched the win to book themselves a spot in the semi-finals as second-half substitute Diawara met Goodwin's cross before laying it off to Ben Halloran who made no mistake with a composed finish from inside the box.