NPL Report: City 1- 2 Box Hill United

Melbourne City’s NPL side has suffered its first defeat of the 2019 NPL season, going down 2-1 to Box Hill United on Saturday afternoon.

Though City was able to take the lead through striker Sam Morrison in the 19th minute – his second in as many weeks – a spirited Box Hill comeback was sparked by a 35th minute own goal from Mitch Graham.

Pythagoras then completed the turnaround in the second half when Souheil Azgane – who had been right there when Graham turned in the first – found the back of the net in the 55th minute to put his side ahead.

The luck was no better for City’s U20 side earlier in the day, going down 1-0 to the hosts after a 33rd minute strike from Damian Radulovic.

Starting XI

With a number of first choice options – Ramy Najjarine, Josh Cavallo, James Delianov, Yaya Dukuly and Connor Metcalfe – all travelling to Sydney with Warren Joyce’s A-League side, City were forced into a reshuffle for the trip to Box Hill.

Josh Varga started after returning from international, while Luca Tevere was handed a maiden senior NPL start.

Lucas Portelli returned from injury to anchor the defence, flanked on his right by Dylan Pierias – who wore the armband for the contest.

What happened?

In perfect conditions at Wembley Park, City started the contest brightly when Varga and Stefan Colakovski combined to free the latter to whip a dangerous ball in from that was just unable to find a friend as it made its way through the penalty area.

It harboured a fast pace opening in which the two sides, despite the sun that loomed overhead, looked to seize the initiative early. Pierias and Colakovski, in particular, both looked likely for Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ side as they combined well on the right flank.

On 19 minutes that combination bore fruit when Colakovski, in a fantastic piece of situational awareness, drew the defence towards him with a driving run through the middle before laying off a ball to Pierias on the right.

Driving the ball into the area Pierias was then able to pick out a waiting Morrison, who promptly poked home to give City the lead.  

Pierias looked to grab one of his own soon after, only to be denied by the gloves of Pythagoras keeper Yianni Skliros.

Frustrated throughout the opening 30 minutes of play – frequently finding their attacks breaking down before a final, killer ball could be played – Box Hill flashed danger signs for the visitors just past the half an hour mark when Isaiah Joseph charged down Pierias and knocked a ball into the middle for Azgane.

City, though, was just able to scramble the ball away.

However, City efforts at scrambling the ball away proved less productive in the 38th minute when a goalmouth scramble led to central defender Graham inadvertently turning the ball into his own net to restore the game to equilibrium.

Though Colakovski and Morrison would both look to restore City’s lead soon after, neither were able to find paydirt as the teams went into the dressing rooms at halftime level at 1-1.

Despite that somewhat positive end to the first stanza, City was almost caught napping just five minutes after the restart when a long ball over their defence for Delarno Pharoe took them unawares. Luckily for the back four, however, the Box Hill winger’s resulting shot was over the bar.

Five minutes later, though, there was no let off for the City defence as Azgane, finally, got one of his own when his shot on goal took a deflection, beat goalkeeper Majak Mawith and made it 2-1 for the hosts.

It was almost 3-1 just seconds later, with Pharoe only denied a goal when some heavy pressure from Graham forced his shot over the bar.

Perias would try to spark something for his side in the 61st minute when he tried to make something from an acute angle but it wasn’t to be, as City struggled to create clear chances to force their way back into the game.

A bobble just before he could shoot threw off Nicholas Hatzigeorgiou as he looked to hammer a shot in from the top of the area in the 80th minute before Colakovski forced a save from Skliros with a low shot in the 86th.

Desperate chances would then follow to Morrison and Pierias as the game ticked over into stoppage time but it wasn’t to be for City, suffering their first defeat of the season and slipping to third on the NPL 2 Eastern Conference table.

What’s next?

City will look to get back into the winner's circle next Saturday when they play host to NPL2 Western Conference side Moreland Zebras in the first of the NPL 2’s cross-conference rounds.