Melbourne City’s NPL side has capped off an unbeaten opening month to their 2019 NPL2 Eastern Conference campaign but, nonetheless, has been left wondering what might have been after their 1-1 draw with Springvale White Eagles.
After falling behind early in the encounter after the White Eagles Stefan Cicmil poked in a corner in the 20th minute, City rallied back from a difficult start to have the game tied heading into extra time after Sam Morrison headed his side level in the 31st minute.
Though City would continue to grow into the game as the second stanza played out, they would be unable to find a winner – their hearts broken in the 91st minute when Ramy Najjarine had a goal disallowed for offside despite seemingly being level with his man when the ball took its final touch.
Earlier in the day, Petr Kratky’s U20s side recorded yet another victory when they downed the 20s of Springvale 2-0 in the day’s curtain raiser.
City was forced into a late change just prior to kickoff after experienced defender Lucas Portelli was unable to complete the warmup.
Ben Pierias – brother of A-League capped defender Dylan – took his place in the starting XI, whilst Bradley Chick moved onto the bench.
Despite occupying a higher position on the ladder heading into the contest, City was forced back on their heels early in the meeting between the two sides at La Trobe University; Springvale goes close to opening the scoring with two quickfire chances in the contest’s tenth minute.
Continuing to ramp up the pressure on their hosts, Springvale would then put themselves ahead in the 20th minute when Cicmil pounced on a ball at the back post that City had been unable to properly clear after a corner in from the right to give his side a deserved early lead.
The visitors almost made it two just eight minutes later when Cicmil nodded a cross to the top of the area onward with his head, forcing goalkeeper Majak Mawith into a suburb, diving save to palm the ball out for a corner.
Nonetheless, City began to force their way back into the contest after weathering this early storm and were able to restore the game to an equilibrium in the 31st minute when some fantastic build up play from the midfield sprung winger Stefan Colakovski down the right.
Looking up, Colakovski was able to place a perfectly weighted cross onto the head of a waiting Morrison, who nodded it back across the face of the keeper and into the net to make it 1-1.
Just minutes before halftime – with City truly beginning to impose themselves on the contest – it was almost 2-1 to the hosts when Luca Tevere hammered a long-range shot off the crossbar in the 41st minute and Morrison had a one-on-one effort saved by Springvale keeper James Burgess in the 44th minute.
Najjarine would create the first clear-cut chance to either side in the second half, swinging a cross onto the head of defender Mitch Graham inside the White Eagles penalty area only for the resulting effort to be desperately cleared away by the defence.
Springvale was then able to fire back in the 63rd minute; Cicmil playing strike partner Taban Makoll in on goal only for him to spray his shot wide after the backtracking City defence put him under pressure.
Tevere would then have another chance when a nice ball from Mark Karlic in the 69th minute gave him time at the edge of the area to tee up a shot on goal but he could only push his effort wide of the post.
With both sides still hungry for three points, the contest was set for a barnstorming finish – with the action taking on an end to end quality as both sides pushed for a winner.
Colakovski would feed Najjarine for a shot in the 89th minute in one of the dying stages’ better chances, only for the A-League capped player’s resulting shot to go across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.
Just two minutes later, however, Najjarine would have the ball in the back of the net – only to be denied by the flag of the linesman.
Weaving down the right, second-half substitute Giovanni Stellitano thurst in a dangerous looking ball across the face of the area, wrongfooting Burgess.
Taking a touch of Morrison, the ball somehow found a way to Najjarine and was promptly tapped in, seemingly winning the game for City.
Alas, the flag of the linesman was promptly raised, with the official – despite the protestations of the City bench and seemingly flying in the face of the video of the incident – declaring that Najjarine had been offside in the build-up.
The result means that City retains second place on the NPL2 Eastern Conference table after four rounds of the 2019 season, a point clear of third-placed Langwarrin.
City will next week travel to Wembley Park to face Box Hill United in their fifth game of the season.