Melbourne City’s youth suffered a disappointing 3-0 defeat on Saturday, going down to a visiting Murray United in hot conditions at La Trobe University.
A first half goal to Zac Walker would see United go into half time up 1-0, which was then followed by two goals in two minutes to Tom Morrison and Walker again in the second half as United picked up their first win of the season.
With Melbourne City’s senior A-League side being afforded the week off, acting head coach Lachlan Armstrong entered the NPL2 round 4 game with a full contingent of players to select his side from.
Mark Karlic, a returning Mitch Graham, Lucas Portelli and Dylan Pierias made up the back four in front of Young Socceroo goalkeeper James Delianov.
Playing in the six role in front of the defence was Luke Duzel, the youngster rewarded with a start after some solid performances off the bench in recent weeks.
In front of Duzel was, for the second straight week, a line-up packed full of A-League potential.
Josh Cavallo and Denis Genreau took up their regular positions in the centre of the midfield, tucked in behind a trio of Gianluca Iannucci, who scored last week against Box Hill, Moudi Najjar and Zac Bates.
Conditions were oppressive at kick-off, with temperatures clocking in at 35 degrees as the two sides got underway at La Trobe University.
The game’s first clear chance would fall to City, Najjar tussling with several United defenders as he looked to get on the end of a ball lose at the top of the penalty area.
Getting entangled, Najjar and his United marker would go down, with Iannucci then sneaking in behind them looking to poach the games opening goal.
Iannucci would proceed to make good contact with the ball, only for his seemingly goal bound shot to be blocked by a desperate United defence.
United would hit City on the counter in the immediate aftermath however, going ahead through Walker.
The move would start with United captain Ashley Dunn, who advanced the ball through the midfield before sliding it to Tom Morrison on the right wing.
Morrison would get to the by-line before squaring it to Walker at the top of the area. Walker then had enough time to collect himself and square his body before firing a shot into the bottom corner.
The sequence would mark the story of the first half; City controlling the game as they looked to raise the intensity, but finding themselves unable to make that killer final touch.
United in contrast, were looking to play on the counter, seeking to bog the play down when City had the ball before breaking in behind the City defence when they eventually forced a turn over.
The fast pace that City set would take its toll on both sides, with the referee – who did an excellent job keeping firm control of the game despite the two sides becoming increasingly belligerent in the heat – calling for a drinks break in the 25th minute as temperatures nudged 36 degrees.
City would have a gilt-edged chance to equalize following the restart, Portelli rising highest to meet a corner only to see his headed effort saved by Abdulkerim Koc in the United goal.
Portelli would threaten numerous times from set pieces in the first stanza, but the big central defender was unable to grab City’s opener.
A scare would be sent through the City camp just before half time, when Delianov suffered a knock to the head after United’s Walker collided with the young keeper as he sought to follow up a parried away save.
Delianov would require treatment, but would be ok to continue; taking his place in the City’s goals as the second half resumed.
It would only take three minutes of the second for City to hit the back of the net, however in a cruel twist it was their own silly error that would result in the goal being denied.
Shrugging off defenders, Najjar played a ball through the United defence and into the path of Bates, who would dink the ball over an onrushing Koc and towards the goal.
Bates seemed all but certain to give City the equalizer.
However, Duzel, poacher’s instinct overriding his footballing smarts, would run onto the ball from an offside position to tap it over the line.
The referee was left with no choice but to wave the goal off, as City found themselves still trailing a goal to nil.
Disastrously, the bad news wouldn’t finish there for City, as Murray United would add their second goal seven minutes later.
Morrison would get to the top corner of the City penalty area to receive a cut-back, proceeding to shift the ball onto his left foot before blasting a shot beyond Delianov and into the bottom corner to make it 2-0.
A minute later it would be three.
United would capitalize on a sleepwalking City, intercepting an errant Cavallo back-pass, with Walker ghosting through the City defence to make it two goals in two minutes for the border side and make it 3-0.
City maintained the lions share of position from that point forward, knocking the ball between themselves as United sat back, content to soak up pressure with their 3-0 lead.
Both sides would become increasingly chippy with each other as the game continued, the temperature beginning to nudge 37 degrees and forcing another drinks break as it sapped at both the wills and patience of the players on both sides of the field.
United in particular would appear eagre to let the clock run down through gamesmanship, with numerous stoppages occurring for cramp and soft tissue complaints as the game continued.
Despite the fitness edge appearing to lie with City, they were unable to capitalize on it, with their possession counting for naught as the game ended with the score still sitting at Melbourne City 0 - Murray United 3.
City will take on the NPL2 Eastern Conference’s other regional side next week, marking the second week of their three-game home stand with a visit by the Goulburn Valley Suns.
The Suns pushed City right to the wire in last year’s competition, their 41 points equalling City’s total. Only their inferior goal difference, +3 to the Suns against +19 to City, relegated them to fourth place on the table.
Despite finishing below City on the end of season table, the Suns would actually win both meetings between the two clubs; defeating City 2-1 at the Shepparton Sport’s Complex in round nine and 4-3 in a spiteful affair at LaTrobe University in round 24.