Melbourne City FC returned to the winners list in a pulsating encounter with Wellington Phoenix on Monday night in Wollongong.
City twice saw its opponent equalise on the night, but Marco Tilio's first City goal was enough to secure the visitors the three points.
In the team’s first trip to WIN Stadium, coach Patrick Kisnorbo sent in an unchanged line up with City’s in-form front three of Craig Noone, Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout leading the line. With 18 goals between them in the opening 13 matches, the City strike-force have been sending fear into the hearts of opposition defenders of late and an undermanned Phoenix back four were no exception.
The game started at a frenetic pace with end-to-end surges creating a spectacle that was very easy on the eye for neutrals and fans alike. City controlled the bulk of the attacking thrusts and chances, however the nominal home side were proving a danger in counter-attacking situations via the pace of Jaushua Sotirio and the composure of David Ball in wide positions.
A flurry of City blue chances ultimately paid dividends in the 17th minute as Curtis Good stepped around his marker at a corner kick and nodded home to give Melbourne the lead.
However, just a couple of minutes later full-back Nathaniel Atkinson was forced from the field with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. City’s first change of the night coming earlier than they’d have liked, with Scott Galloway replacing the Tasmanian.
Wellington were able to force their way back into the contest with Atkinson’s removal, to put a dominant City under pressure over the following period of the game.
After the Phoenix were able to win the ball back in midfield, a Ulises Davila’s subsequent pass to release David Ball was expertly dispatched across the box to an on-rushing Tomer Hemed for the equaliser.
Level pegging was short-lived though, as just minutes after the equaliser an impressive surge from Olyroo Connor Metcalfe released Maclaren down the left-hand flank, and the league’s leading goal scorer finished a left foot shot to the far post with lethal execution.
The goal marks Maclaren’s 92nd in the A League and moves him into equal second on the all-time goal scoring table alongside Shane Smeltz.
The start of the second half was to be a frustrating one for City fans, as the away side created a plethora of strong chances, but some astute goal keeping, sharp defending. and profligacy saw Melbourne unable to consolidate their ascendancy with the scorers.
To further rub salt in the wounds, a well-executed counter attack from the Phoenix just before the hour mark saw Davila beat two defenders and curl a strike to the far post for the Phoenix to yet again equalise.
Both sides amassed a wealth of chances to take the lead in the final half hour, but it was City’s 80th minute substitutes that turned the game on its head.
Stefan Colakovski and Marco Tilio entered the fray with immediate impact; their pace and direct nature causing havoc for the tiring Wellington defence. The duo were both involved for the winner, with Colakovski winning the ball in a crucial stage, and ultimately it ended up at the feet of Connor Metcalfe on the by-line.
With his second assist of the match, Metcalfe found the head of Marco Tilio, the youngster attacking the front post and nodding home for his first City goal and securing an important three points for the title-chasing boys from Melbourne.
The win takes City to second on the A-League ladder, still holding a game in hand over the ladder leading Mariners.
City will take on Sydney FC this Saturday April 10 at 5.05pm at Leichhardt Stadium in what will be another crucial game in a tightly run 20/21 A-League race.
Tickets for our next home game, The Melbourne Derby, are on sale now from Ticketek.