Melbourne City’s youth have had their hearts broken late in their clash with Moreland City, unable to complete a brave, ten-man rear-guard action as they conceded an equaliser in the game’s 98th minute to share the spoils.
Moudi Najjar opened the scoring for City in the games 48th minute, before Moreland defender Mathew Reid would make it one all in game’s 58th minute after he rose highest to meet a Jesse Makarounas corner.
Denis Genreau would set up Yusuf Ahmed in the game’s 76th minute to put City back ahead, only for Moreland to stage their late comeback to steal a point.
James Delianov returned to the starting XI after being absent from the win over the Moreland Zebras.
He took up his regular position in goal behind a back four that was anything but regular, with Josh Cavallo, Aiden Farquhar, Mitchell Graham and Mark Karlic making up the City defence.
Captain Denis Genreau, Anthony Lesiotis and Connor Metcalfe made up the City midfield, behind an attacking trio of Yusuf Ahmed, Gianluca Iannucci and Moudi Najjar.
It was Moreland that had the opening chances of the contest, towering centre-back Reid rising to direct a header straight at Delianov in the game’s 5th minute and Lisandro Paz heading over the bar after a Christopher Cristaldo cross two minutes later.
It was not until the game’s 17th minute that City would produce their first clear chance on goal, Ahmed forcing a turnover just inside of Moreland’s half and driving with purpose towards goal, letting loose with a long-range shot that was blocked by a desperate lunge from Reid.
Najjar would be Mr Jonny-on-the-spot for the follow-up but was deemed to be offside by the linesman.
Moreland would respond in the 22nd minute when their captain Corey Thomas stole a ball from Farquhar in the City defence and broke into the area, only for his low shot to be comfortably saved by Delianov.
Ahmed would almost respond for City six minutes later; magnificently chesting down a high ball from Metcalfe, turning and blasting a venomous shot that only just bounced off the post and back into play.
Cristaldo would float another dangerous ball into the City penalty area in the 35th minute, this time in the direction of Makarounas, however, the Moreland number nine was unable to keep his headed effort down, putting it over the bar and out for a goal kick.
Perhaps the defining moment of the game would occur in the game’s 44th minute, starting with a moment so innocuous it almost appeared comical on reflection.
Cavallo, who had already been booked after getting tangled with Apai Ukuno in the games 32nd minute, received his second yellow card after bouncing the ball to himself in frustration at being adjudged to have given away a foul.
The referee deemed the minor outburst worthy of a second yellow, sending City’s recently crowned Y-League player of the year to the rooms just on the stroke of halftime.
Despite starting the second half with a one-man disadvantage, City would break the game open three minutes after the restart, Najjar following up his hat-trick against the Zebras last week a poachers goal.
Nipping in between the Moreland defence and goalkeeper Kieran McDowell, Najjar intercepted a back-pass before rounding McDowell and rolling the ball across the line to make it 1-0.
Moreland would make it 1-1 only ten minutes later, Reid finally taking advantage of his height advantage when he rose highest to meet a Makarounas corner at the far post, directing his header downwards and past Delianov to even things back up.
Metcalfe would flash a long-range shot wide right in the game’s 65th minute as a ten-man City pressed to retake their lead before they would hit pay dirt in the games 76th minute when Genreau fed the ball in behind the Moreland defence to Ahmed.
Seizing on the pass, Ahmed would dribble a shot around McDowell that somehow stayed just out of reach of a furiously pursuing Moreland defence and rolled over the line to make it 2-1 to City.
Four minutes later Moreland would have a series of gilt-edged chances in quick succession, including one that was miraculously cleared off the line, but would somehow not bring the game level once again – City grimly holding on to their lead.
As the game entered stoppage time it appeared that the ten-man City had done enough to earn all three points, but that was when controversy raised its ugly head.
Palming a long-range Moreland shot down to himself, Delianov would stand with the ball at his feet, waiting until the last possible moment before a Moreland attacker arrived to bend down and pick the ball up.
Sliding past the attacker, Delianov would let out a yell before going down; appearing to have received an errant kick as he looked to kill the clock off.
Players for City and Moreland both swarmed to the site of the incident, with handbags on both sides being exchanged as the referee struggled to maintain order.
With the clock ticking over to 98 minutes, and with neither side really aware of just how much time remained, Moreland threw one last desperate attack forward, pouring men forward in an attempt to take advantage of their one-player advantage.
The strategy paid off.
With four attackers to City’s two defenders inside the box, Cristaldo would get on the end of a ball played into the near post, slipping a header between Delianov and the upright to secure his side a point.
City will next week return home for the NPL2s second cross-conference round, welcoming the Warriors of Northern Geelong to La Trobe University.
The Warriors were relegated from the NPL’s top division last year and currently, sit in fourth position the NPL2 Western Conference table.