Melbourne City FC continued their march towards the NPL 1 play-offs with a crucial 2-0 victory over league leaders Bulleen Lions at David Barro Stadium on Monday night.
A stunning long-range strike from midfielder Mehdi Sarwari fired City into the lead in the early stages of the second-half, before Hernan Espindola wrapped up all three points in injury time to move Joe Montemurro’s men to within one point of the coveted NPL 1 play-off position.
Bulleen went into the game knowing that a win would extend their buffer at the top of the NPL 1 West table to a commanding 11 points, but were unable to find a way past a spirited Yaren Sozer in the City goal, as the keeper produced a series of excellent saves to keep the Lions at bay.
The league leaders began brightly and threatened in the early stages of the match, with Bardhi Hysoli fizzing an effort wide of the target before a darting run from Sami Nour was halted by a brilliant challenge from Jordon Hall.
City were nearly ahead after 15 minutes when Baki Efe lost his marker inside the penalty area, but the defender could only smash a powerful volley against the woodwork with Bulleen ‘keeper Stefaan Sardelic well beaten.
A hard-fought midfield battle afforded both sides with a number of set-piece opportunities in the opening half, with Ali Eyigun going closest in the 27th minute when he forced Sardelic into a comfortable catch after a neat set-play with Ratip Cileli.
Nour was proving to be a nuisance in attack for the Lions and nearly provided an instant response with a mazing run into the penalty area, but he failed to trouble Sozer with an effort that was high and wide of the goal.
Takouri Nishimoto trickled an effort wide of the target in the 36th minute as Bulleen looked to stamp their authority on the match, and they nearly found themselves ahead only minutes before half-time.
A brilliant cross form the lively Nour found Hysoli in space inside the penalty area, who spurned a golden chance to put his side ahead when his tangled effort was thwarted by the combination of Sozer and Nick Symeoy.
The contest was broken wide open in the 53rd minute as a moment of magic from Sarwari fired City into the lead. After receiving a pass from Ratip Cileli, the midfielder skipped past his marker and cut onto his left foot before launching a spectacular effort into the top corner.
Substitute Phil Petreski nearly doubled the advantage two minutes later, forcing Sardelic to parry a powerful set-piece out of danger after City were awarded a free-kick on the very edge of the penalty area.
The introduction of striker Dean Lorenzi in the 62nd minute coincided with Bulleen’s most dominant period of the game as the substitute nearly made an immediate impact. After finding himself clear on goal, the striker opted to round Sozer, who anticipated well to push the ball to safety with a strong right hand.
The City goalkeeper was at his best in the 70th minute when he brilliantly tipped a stinging effort from Lorenzi around the post to preserve his side’s lead, as Bulleen began to throw numbers forward in search of an equaliser.
Lorenzi looked like he would be the man to deliver for Bulleen but twice missed opportunities to level the scores, firing another effort high over the crossbar before falling inches short of latching onto Nishimoto’s cross with a header.
But again it was Sozer to the rescue, first clawing away a dangerous corner from Matteo Ballan, before reacting brilliantly to hold onto Felix Rosman’s goal-bound header.
And the icing was put on the cake in the third minute of stoppage time after a swift City counter-attack. Petreski robbed Davide Cardamone of possession in the middle of the park before slipping a pass through to the marauding Espindola, who finished emphatically past Sardelic to seal an important victory.
Melbourne City FC 2 (Mehdi SARWARI 53’, Hernan ESPINDOLA 90+3)
Bulleen Lions FC 0
Melbourne City FC Line-up: 1. Yaren SOZER, 3. Nick SYMEOY, 4. Jordon HALL, 5. Leo ATHANASIOU, 8. Ratip CILELI, 9. Tom BARFOROSH, 10. Luka PRELEVIC, 14. Baki EFE (Anthony RIZK 75’), 16. Matthew MILLAR (Hernan ESPINDOLA 75’), 21. Ali EYIGUN (Phil PETRESKI 46’), 22. Mehdi SARWARI
Substitutes not used: 11. Marcus DIMANCHE 12, 20. Yianni SKLIROS (GK).
Yellow cards: nil
Red cards: nil
Bulleen Lions FC Line-up: 21. Stefaan SARDELIC, 3. Will ABBOTT, 6. Bardhi HYSOLI, 8. Matteo BALLAN, 10. Takanori NISHMOTO, 11. Gianni DE NITTIS (Dean LORENZI 62’), 12. Eli LUTTMER, 14. Sami NOUR (Dylan BRESOLIN 80’), 16. Matt DIMECH, 18. Felix ROSMAN (Billy ROMAS 90’), 33. Davide CARDAMONE.
Substitutes not-used: 41. Luke GALLO, 4. Samual BORGHESI.
Yellow cards: De Nittis 42’
Red cards: nil