Melbourne City’s NPL side was unable to turn a halftime lead into three points on Sunday, falling 2-1 to NPL2 Western Conference side Moreland City.
Returning home to La Trobe University in Bundoora after two losses on the road, City appeared in good stead to arrest their losing run after 45 minutes of the contest; heading to the rooms with a 1-0 lead after Josh Varga poked home a close-range effort in the 33rd minute to give City the lead.
However, a near instantaneous equaliser from Moreland City’s Apai Ukuno after play resumed completely swung the momentum in the contest.
Just ten minutes later, Osman Kose – who went close on a number of occasions throughout the game – popped up to give Moreland a match-winning lead after being played through on goal by Corey Thomas.
Handed his first full week of preparation of City’s NPL squad since becoming Head Coach, Petr Kratky made five changes to the squad that fell 6-2 to Northcote City the previous week; Luke Duzel, Mitch Graham, Daniel Lucente, Varga and Ahmed Taleb all entering the starting XI.
Graham was also handed the captain’s armband for the fixture, with the young defender set to be the side’s captain on a permanent basis going forward.
In grey and windy conditions at La Trobe, City started the contest in a bright manner; Varga poking a ball into the penalty area to create a chance for Moudi Najjar after just two minutes of play. His back to goal, Najjar attempted to spin towards goal and launch a first time effort on goal, only for his shot to be blocked away for a corner.
That’s not to say all the early traffic went City’s way, though, with Kose hitting the crossbar and then the post in the 4th and 6th minutes of play.
After a fast and furious opening, the play would then settle down until the 17th minute when Josh Cavallo came agonisingly close to opening the scoring when he collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area and blasted a dipping effort in on goal. Only an acrobatic leap from Moreland goalkeeper Kieran McDowell to tip the ball over the bar to prevented City from taking the lead.
Fortunately for City, their next clear chance on goal would prove much more fruitful.
Breaking down the right wing in the 33rd minute, Gianluca Iannucci got his head up and launched an inviting cross into the penalty area for Najjar.
Though Najjar was unable to make proper contact with his shot, the ball continued onwards into the path of left winger Varga. The Australian U17 representative made no mistake with his subsequent effort, poking home to give City the lead.
Moreland almost restored the game to parity just minutes after that opener, though, when Christopher Cristaldo flicked a cross towards City’s goal; Taleb forced to make a split-second reaction save to deny him.
Alas, there was to be no such let off just seconds into the second-half as Moreland was able to drag themselves back to parity when the ball was scrambled into the back of the net following a goalmouth scramble in the City area – Ukuno claiming the goal as he ran away with his hand in the air.
Jesse Makarounas then went close for Moreland five minutes later when he forced Taleb into making another sharp save after being played through by Kose.
City was under the pump and, regrettably for Kratky’s side, they were unable to continue to hold out.
Forcing a turnover deep in City’s half in the 55th minute, Thomas played through Kose with a perfectly placed ball in behind the defence. The Moreland winger then made no mistake with his resulting opportunity, sliding a shot past Taleb to make it 2-1.
Duelling chances to Ukuno and Cavallo then followed as the two sides jostled for control of the game before Kose once against rattled the frame of the goals in the 80th minute when he thundered an effort off the crossbar.
City had perhaps one final clear chance to equalise in the 84th minute when Jordan Bos laid an inviting low cross into the penalty area from the left; only for there to be nobody in the danger zone waiting to send it home.
City will again face off with NPL2 Western Conference opposition next week when they make the trek out to Werribee to taken on Werribee City FC.
The task ahead of Kratky’s boys is a daunting one, with ‘The Bees’ second in the very strong Western Conference heading into the game.