Melbourne City have strengthened their hold on third position on the PS4 NPL2 Eastern Conference table with a commanding two goals to nil win over Brunswick City SC on Saturday.
Second half goals to Austin Wong and Gerrie Sylaidos secured the win for City – who came into the clash with their grip on third looking increasingly perilous after back to back losses.
Many of City’s dips in form that have resulted in them being on the outside looking in on the promotion race atop the table can be attributed to their habit of not starting games strongly – many a time this season conceding an early goal and being forced to claw their way back into the contest.
But on this occasion, it was City that started the game in the ascendency.
Welcoming back Yaren Sozer and Nathanial Atkinson – who missed last week’s game through injury and A-League commitments respectively – City forced their Brunswick opponents onto the back foot early in the contest – executing their possession based style to deny their opponents the ball for many prolonged periods throughout the opening 25 minutes.
Speaking on his sides ability to execute this possession based game plan, City youth boss Joe Palatsides said:
“I think we were playing really good football at the start of the year and in the NYL when that part of our game was really strong and dominant. It was an aspect we got right today and I think we controlled the game and got a well-deserved win in the end.”
City should likely have taken the lead in just the ninth minute of play when a long Mersim Memeti ball over the top of the defence was run onto by Anthony Theodoropolous.
With the Brunswick defence standing statuesque as they unsuccessfully appealed for an offside call Theodoropolous only had Brunswick goalkeeper Sebastian Mattei to beat with Atkinson in support to his right.
However, the midfielder could only blast his shot to the left of the goal as the score remained even.
It would be the best chance of the half for both sides – City’s early dominance of possession not rewarded on the score sheet and Brunswick eventually bringing the game back to a more even footing as the half progressed.
Hampering both team’s efforts throughout much of the game were weather conditions that at times had the Melbourne City coaching staff retreating under a blanket on the sideline. Freezing cold temperatures and fierce winds that played havoc with any ball played off the ground hampering the efforts of both sides as they looked to grab an elusive first goal.
However – despite the challenging conditions – that elusive opener did eventuate when it was grabbed by City 10 minutes after the second half restart following another strong opening that saw them re-establish their dominance over possession.
The goal itself was created by Atkinson – who was outstanding playing in his natural position out on the wing – when he broke clear down the right side of the park before cutting towards the near post.
Forcing Mattei to close him down to foil any near post shot; Atkinson instead slid a pass past the oncoming Brunswick goalkeeper towards Wong – who was one of several City players queuing up in the penalty area – to tap the ball into an open net to give City the lead.
Palatsides said of Atkinson’s game: “Nathanial was probably the standout player up until he came off. He was really looking sharp and you can see why Warren Joyce likes him so much. He was creating and working really hard defensively and that’s the type of athlete he is.”
“He’s a rising star at the moment and he’s in the limelight with the senior team”
Up one goal to nil City looked to press their advantage; occasionally looking to have the ball on a string as they played the ball around looking for an opening in a Brunswick defence that played a disciplined, high line throughout the entire contest.
Despite this disciplined showing by the Brunswick defence however, another breakthrough eventually came for City in the 68th minute.
George Gerondaras – who had come onto the park only minutes before after Atkinson tweaked his groin – played Zachary Bates through for a one on one with Mattei.
Before he could shoot however; Bates was brought down from behind by Brunswick’s Frank Serratore and awarded a penalty.
Stepping up to take the spot kick was Syalidos, who blasted the ball into the top right-hand corner to give City a two goal cushion.
That is how the game would end - with City able to prevent Brunswick from mounting any serious attempts at a comeback in the last 20 minutes to secure the much needed win.
Palatsides said after the game: “We’ve dropped off in certain aspects of the game [Over the second half of the NPL2 Season]. We identified that during the week and we addressed it in the pre-match and we matched up a few areas that we needed to improve on and I think the boys, in those areas in particular, were really good today.”
“I thought that our pressure was high and our running ability was at a very good level. That makes it hard for the opposition to control the game and to even create chances. So I thought we were very solid defensively, I think it’s only our third clean sheet for the year, and I think that sets the tone for the rest of the team”
“Once we started wearing them down with our running ability then it was a bit easier. I think we scored two and we probably scored a couple more at the end there.”
“All in all it was a good performance”
Playing a week before the rest of the NPL2 will play in their Round 26 fixtures, the win nonetheless guarantees that City will still sit in third position at the conclusion of the round.
City will conclude its season with games against the Dandenong Thunder – with Paddy Kisnorbo set to take charge of the senior side – at home in Round 27, before making the trip to Wembley Park to face Box Hill in Round 28.
Examining the run home of the chasing pack: Fourth placed Murray United will travel to face the Moreland Zebras in Round 26 and the Springvale White Eagles in Round 27 before hosting Nunawading City in Round 28, fifth placed Goulburn Valley will host Melbourne Victory in Round 26 before finishing the season away to Richmond and at home to Dandenong City, and the sixth placed Springvale White Eagles will travel to face Whittlesea Ranges in Round 26 before concluding their season at home to Murray United and away to the Eastern Lions.
Melbourne City 2 (Austin Wong 55’ - Gerrie Sylaidos 68’)
Brunswick City SC 0