Melbourne City have fought back from a two goals to nil deficit to secure a point against the newly promoted Dandenong Thunder at LaTrobe on Saturday.
Goals to Stefan Colakovski in the 27th minute and Josh Cavallo in the 54th were enough for City to salvage a point on the day after the Thunder had raced to a two goals to nil lead through a third minute Brandon Barnes strike and an 11th minute goal by Alon Blumgart.
Barnes had struck early in the first meeting between the two sides in Round 14 of the season – and the striker took advantage of City’s predilection for conceding early goals to offer a reprisal of that performance.
The Thunder talisman was Mr Johnny on the spot for the Thunder after only three minutes when winger Mohammed Feizi had two efforts on goal blocked by the City defence.
Pouncing on the ball in space Barnes was able to thunder his shot past James Delianov in the City goal and gave the Thunder an early lead.
The Thunder followed this early goal by applying immense pressure on City. Playing a high line, the Thunder prevented the City backline of Yasin Nur, Mersim Memeti, Lucas Portelli, and Dylan Pierias from playing the ball out from the back half.
Instead the defence, as well as holding midfielder Leo Athanasiou, were often forced to knock the ball about between themselves, all the whilst under intense pressure from the Thunder attack, as they searched for an opening up the field.
This intense pressure came to a head in the 11th; when a wayward pass from Delianov out to his defenders in the middle of the park was pounced on by Blumgart – who intercepted the ball in space and slotted it home, doubling the Thunder’s advantage.
With the game threatening to become a repeat of the round 14 encounter at the Thunder’s home of George Andrews Reserve – a contest that saw the Thunder at one stage lead four goals to nil – City needed to dig deep to get back into the contest.
And that is just what they did.
Buoyed by the return of A-League listed Daniel Arzani, scholarship players Pierias, Delianov and Denis Genreau and Young Socceroo Cavallo to the side – as well as a standout performance from Colakovski – City forced their way back into the game as their passing and movement eventually forced the high line of Dandenong to retreat.
Their efforts were eventually rewarded, when a fast break culminated in a 27th minute goal to Colakovski.
Running onto a magnificently placed through ball down the right wing from Cavallo in central midfield, Colakovski made to break for the touchline before cutting inside, blasting a shot to the right of Nathan Prince in the Thunder goal and making the score two goals to one.
Their tails up, City almost went level at the end of the first half through an unlikely source when Nur, ghosting up the field from his left back position, latched onto a bouncing ball outside the area and launched a half volley goalward – only to see his shot bounce off the crossbar.
The equaliser did come soon after the restart however when an Arzani cross from the right pinballed around the Thunder defence, Zachary Bates taking two blocked swipes goalward and Colakovski one, before the ball eventually fell to Cavallo at the back post – who dutifully netted to finally make the scores two goals apiece.
Despite the Thunder bringing on former Melbourne Heart superstar Simon Colosimo to play the six role at the half, City increasingly gained the ascendency as the game continued; looking more physically fit and often driving the ball to the byline and playing dangerous balls into the penalty area.
City came close to seizing the lead on several occasions; Bates hitting the bar with a spectacular leaping volley in the 65th minute, substitute Lucas Derrick hitting the post after being played through by Genreau in the 75th and Arzani launching several shots that would have no doubt been YouTube sensations had they gone found the target.
Speaking after the draw, Paddy Kisnorbo – coaching the side in place of Lachlan Armstrong and Joe Palatsides – who are on tour with a City side taking part in the Suning Cup in China – said of the performance:
“The first ten minutes weren’t great – but the other 80 minutes were exceptional.”
“We created enough chances – chances that we could have could have capitalized on a bit more. But I really enjoyed the game and the way we played was great football.”
“We had Arzani and Genreau and Pierias and they were great. They showed good leadership and it was good for them to get their fitness levels up and get some minutes into. It was great that some of the young boys that we brought in were able to play with them.”
“I think the future is bright”
The two all result means that City have done enough to retain third position on the PS4 NPL2 Eastern Conference table. City’s superior goal difference of +14 enough to see them stay above the Goulburn Valley Suns – who moved level with City’s 38 points are all but relegating Richmond SC with a five goals to three win – and their +2 goal difference.
City will next week travel to Box Hill for the final game of the NPL season – whilst the Suns will play host to an out of sorts Dandenong City in Shepparton.
Melbourne City: 2 (Stefan Colakovski 27’ – Josh Cavallo – 54’)
Dandenong Thunder: 2 (Brandon Barnes 3’ – Alon Blumgart 11’)