A flat Melbourne City have gone down to NPL2 Western Conference foes Sunshine George Cross SC two goals to one in bitterly cold conditions at LaTrobe University on Saturday.
Despite sitting in third position of the NPL2 Eastern Conference table coming into the day’s play - City’s promotion hopes were fading entering the round 21 clash - sitting eight points behind the second placed Dandenong Thunder and 13 points behind first placed Dandenong City.
And their hopes of a win to keep in touch were dealt a serious blow less than 15 seconds into the contest when Sunshine immediately broke down the left wing from the kick-off.
Getting the ball to the byline, The Georgie’s whipped a bullet of cross towards the top of the six yard box – where Japanese import Yōsuke Saitō was able to rise to meet it and head the ball past City goalkeeper James Delianov to give Sunshine the one nil lead and the best possible start.
Speaking after the game, City coach Lachlan Armstrong noted the trend that has seen City conceding early in games:
“We certainly weren’t switched on and unfortunately for us that’s been a bit of a theme this year – conceding early goals.”
“We didn’t go behind last week early and we thought we could build on that but [to concede] after a few seconds is just incredible. We were put on the back foot early I guess.”
This early goal however, belied the troubles both sides would have attacking throughout the initial stages of the game. Swirling winds and a harsh glare from the sun – a sun that did nothing to warm proceedings – making life difficult for both sides in the early goings.
These preliminary stages were marked both sides having inverse problems in attack – with City having the lion’s share of possession but lacking penetration or a killer touch in the final third of the park and Sunshine looking dangerous whenever they got in behind the City defence but lacking enough of the ball to truly capitalize.
City’s possession did begin to wear down the Sunshine defence however, and on 31 minutes they were rewarded when Austin Wong produced a piece of individual brilliance that would make Ned Zelic proud.
Losing his marker in the midfield – Wong made a run forward unnoticed by the Sunshine defence to get on the end of a long through ball from Lucas Portelli in the City backline.
Controlling the ball on the half volley, the City central midfielder was able to chip the ball over a charging Sunshine goalkeeper Mathew Symes before running into an open goal and tapping it in to bring City level.
Armstrong again: “His [Wong’s] forward runs are fantastic. He’s scored a couple of goals like that in the last few weeks so I’m really pleased for him”
The one goal apiece score line would be how the first half would end – with both sides entering the break having had chances but with neither side being able to definitively claim dominance at any point.
However, City’s problems with conceding early in halves reared its head again when only six minutes after the restart Sunshine were able to grab their second.
Winning a throw in on the right deep in Melbourne City’s half, Sunshine worked the ball past a flat-footed City defence with a serious of quick flicks before lobbing a ball towards the edge of the area.
Collecting the ball, Sunshine midfielder David Younan found himself with enough time to set himself and launch a screamer into the top right corner on the half volley to put Sunshine up two goals to one.
“We were just talking then - about how it managed to just drop to their striker. It was a fantastic finish mind you” said Armstrong.
“But he seemed to have a lot of time and space to pick that shot out so we’ll have a look at the video and see how we might be able to address that.”
It was a lead that Sunshine would not surrender; with a City side missing several impact players – who have been training with the senior side under new A League coach Warren Joyce – unable to break down the Sunshine defence to grab a late equalizer like they had managed the previous week against Eastern Lions.
After the game, Armstrong described his team as “flat”. Going on to say:
“I thought we had our fair share of possession as generally we do but we got to the final third of the pitch and we failed to penetrate. That was probably the difference today. We didn’t get in behind as much as we like and fair play to the opposition they were pretty well organised back there and they got bodies behind the ball and played into that roadblock and perhaps forced things a little too quickly rather than keeping it and trying to move them from side to side and trying to create those gaps in their defensive block.”
“It’s a disappointing result for us on the day but some tremendous positives for us are that Leo’s back [ Leo Athanasiou played his first game of the NPL season after coming back from an injury suffered in the finals of the Foxtel National Youth League] – Zach Bates as well – and those guys have worked incredibly hard to get back to where they are today. So they deserve a run in the team over the next seven games.”
Despite coming out of the clash with no points, City’s four-point buffer between them and fourth placed Murray United means that they will retain third place on the ladder exiting round 21.
They will undergo their first road trip since May next week when they travel to NPL2 Western Conference leaders Northcote City in what is shaping up to be City’s biggest test on the season.
Earlier in the day City’s U20 side bounced back from their defeat the previous week by scoring a three goals to one win over Sunshine’s U20 squad in the days curtain raiser.
City: 1 (Wong 31')
Bendigo City: 2 (Saito 1' - Younan 51')