Melbourne City’s NPL side returned to form in a big way on Saturday as they recorded a 3-0 victory over Manningham United Blues and snapped a three-game losing streak.
First-half goals to Ramy Najjarine and Connor Metcalfe had their side sitting pretty heading into halftime of the contest before a second-half screamer from Josh Cavallo ensured that City would leave David Barro Stadium victorious.
The three points secured provide an important circuit breaker for City; propelling them up to fifth – and within a game of third – in the NPL2 Eastern Conference after entering the round in seventh.
Just two changes were made to the City XI that went down to Goulburn Valley Suns the week prior.
Goalkeeper Majak Mawith entered the starting line-up in the place of James Delianov, with Australian U17 representative Ahmad Taleb coming onto the bench as the back-up.
Ramy Najjarine – less than 24 hours after coming on as a substitute in City’s 4-1 victory over Brisbane Roar in the A-League – also took his place amongst the starters; Gianluca Iannucci moving to the bench to make way for the Young Socceroo.
A change was also made in the City dugout: Rado Vidosic taking on Head Coaching duties after the departure of Joe Palatsides from the club.
Under perfect Saturday afternoon conditions at David Barro Stadium, City started the game in a positive manner.
Right back Dylan Perias signalled his early intentions to get forward by staging a number of drives down the flank early and Najjarine – in a manner not dissimilar from his wonder-strike whilst representing the Young Socceroos at the 2018 AFC U19 Championship – almost opened the scoring in the 11th minute when he cut inside from the right and curled a lethal looking shot in on goal that United keeper Stefan Taleski was just able to tip over the bar.
Less than 60 seconds later, though, United could do nothing when City, forcing a turnover as the hosts looked to clear the ball from their half, worked the ball forward once more through some pretty combination play between Cavallo and Metcalfe.
Turning towards goal, Metcalfe was then able to thread a perfectly weighted ball between the Manningham defence for Najjarine to run onto.
The winger would make no mistake with the gift: hammering a left-footed effort past Taleski to make it 1-0.
Finding themselves down by a goal early United – who entered the contest with only a single win on the season – sprung to life and finally began to string some dangerous attacking play of their own together.
Getting the ball out wide before swinging it back in as well as forcing several corners, United were clearly looking to take advantage of their distinct size advantage in their search for an equaliser; Travis Hatton-Chalk and Michael Godfrey both having chances that on another day could have easily found the target or eluded a sharp Mawith.
Drama was then afoot in the 27th minute when United’s Jamal Ali looked to knock a ball past the City defence in order to run onto it inside the penalty area. Before he could collect, though, the ball clattered off the hand of Luke Duzel on the very edge of the area.
United was insistent that the contact between hand and ball had occurred in the box but referee Lewis Guiseffi could not be convinced, instead awarding a free kick that Alexander Dao was unable to convert.
Forced to weather a ferocious onslaught from their opponents, City needed to find a circuit breaker.
Thankfully for Vidosic’s side, just as the blunted United pressure just began to fade, one was delivered by midfielder Metcalfe in the 34th minute.
Running hard to get into the United penalty area as City broke forward, Metcalfe found himself in the right place at the right time to fire home after a Stefan Colokovski effort crashed off the post and into his lap atop the area.
United would send one final scare through the City ranks with just seconds remaining in the first half when Anton Nardella broke through the City lines before being brought down inside the area by Dalibor Markovic. He and his teammates shouts for a penalty would go unanswered by Guiseffi, however, as City escaped to the break with a 2-0 goal lead.
Employing a high press as the second half resumed, United would continue to create chances as the second half wore on but, somehow, still found themselves unable to find the back of the net.
Regardless of if it was wayward shooting, fine goalkeeping from Mawith or even desperate defenders hurling themselves in front of shots United found themselves completely unable to find the back of the net – the footballing gods not smiling upon them.
Their pain was compounded – and the result sealed – when City, who had begun to assert greater control of the game as a dispirited United began to fade, made it three in the 66th minute through Cavallo.
Receiving a cutback from Duzel atop the area, Young Socceroo Cavallo two touches to steady himself before launching a left-footed shot that thundered into the top corner of the net, giving Taleski no chance and netting him his second goal of the season.
Though they would launch occasional attacks forward in the wake of Cavallo’s strike, United never again reached the same levels of verve that they had demonstrated earlier in the game as it began to reach its conclusion; City securing their first clean sheet of the season with the win.
City will return to the City Football Academy for round nine of the NPL2 Eastern Conference season as they play host to table toppers Eastern Lions.
Lions suffered their first defeat of the season in round eight, going down 1-0 to Northcote City at John Cain Memorial Reserve.