NPL Report: City 1-2 St Albans Saints

Melbourne City’s senior NPL side was unable to arrest their losing run on Saturday, going down 2-1 to NPL2 Western Conference highflyers St Albans Saints at Churchill Reserve.

City entered the contest in the midst of a four-game losing streak stretching back to late April; their last win coming over Eastern Lions back on 13 April.

Nonetheless, despite coming up against a St Albans side that looks set to be right amongst it in the battle for automatic promotion come the end of the season, City gave as good as they got on Saturday in the compact confines of Churchill Reserve.

Hopes of an upset win were dealt a hammer blow, though, when just before halftime the Saints Adam Hodor popped up to poke in from close range to give the home side a 1-0 lead heading into the dressing rooms.

Not letting their heads drop, City was able to respond in the 54th minute when Gianluca Iannucci hammered home a cross to restore the game for parity.

However, the bigger bodies of the Saints began to prove their worth as the game progressed and David Stojic was able to capitalise in the 78th minute; tapping in a spilled save to win it for St Albans.

Starting XI

Josh Cavallo started his final game for City before departing the club, lining up in the midfield alongside Idrus Abdulahi.Young Daniel Lucente continued his impressive run of form; rewarded for his effort by Head Coach Petr Kratky with another start at left back.

With Moudi Najjar rested, Giovanni Stellitano started up front.

What happened?

Both the Saints and City came out of the blocks firing underneath the overcast conditions at Churchill Reserve; Iannucci forcing a save from Saints’ goalkeeper Robert Santilli when he flicked on a Cavallo cross in just the second minute of play.

Iannucci, deployed on the right wing, then followed up that effort with another shot in the 10th minute after being played through by Luke Duzel, with this effort sliding across the face of goal.

The Saints had their first clear chance of the game as proceedings progressed past the quarter hour mark when Joseph Monek broke down the left flank and worked a ball into the area for Hodor. Hodor, however, could only put his effort over the bar.

Monek himself was played in on goal just five minutes later, only to be quickly closed down by an alert Majak Mawith in the City goal. Choosing instead to shoot from range with his next chance in the 24th minute, Monek was this time able force Mawith into a smart save.

Cavallo fired back for City on the half an hour mark after some fierce pressure from the front forced a turnover by the Saints inside their own half, but he was unable to keep the ball down; watching on as it sailed over the bar.

The action was intense and it soon claimed a casualty after Jordan Bos forced from the field in the 32nd minute after copping a knock and struggling to get any sense of acceleration going. Limping off, he was replaced by Ben Pierias.

With just seconds remaining in the half, it appeared as though proceedings would be level heading into the dressing rooms until the Saints broke down the right for one final attack.

Able to get a low ball in, players from both sides scrambled to get a foot on the ball and Hodor eventually proved successful, doing enough to turn it into the back of the net and make it 1-0.

Down a goal against the NPL2 West’s league leaders and already mired in a run of poor form, it would have been easy for City to drop their heads but, instead, the were able to bring the game back to an equilibrium in the 54th minute when some superb work from Cavallo in dancing around Saints defenders allowed him to whip a ball in from the left.

Though the ball initially skittled the assembled pack in the middle of the box, Iannucci was waiting at the back post for the scraps; hammering home before wheeling away for his trademark cartwheel celebration.

It was almost 2-1 to City just three minutes later when Josh Varga made good contact on a shot that Santilli had to react quickly to to keep out.

Though Mawith was forced into a smart, low save to deny Mathew Cundari in the 59th minute, it didn’t dampen what was City’s best period of the game and Duzel almost beat Santilli with a lunging effort from a Cavallo assist in the 64th minute.

Unfortunately for Kratky’s side, they were unable to turn their run of dominance into a lead as the Saints forced their way back into the game and took the lead in the 78th minute when Stojic pounced after Mawith was unable to hold onto a wicked shot from outside the penalty area.

Their comeback efforts so cruelly dashed, City was unable to recover following the Saints second, falling to defeat and the eighth position on the NPL2 Eastern Conference table.

What’s Next?

City will look to get back on track when they return to La Trobe this Sunday, set to take on newly promoted NPL2 Western Conference side Geelong SC.