It was a hard slog and perhaps a bit fortunate, but Melbourne City’s senior NPL side has gotten their 2019 NPL Victoria season off to the best possible start after recording a 3-2 win on the road against Langwarrin SC.
An early own goal had gifted City the lead early in the contest, before a tap in from Ramy Najjarine just past the hour mark made it 2-0.
Nonetheless, a highly competitive and well organised Langwarrin struck back to drag the contest back to 2-2 in extra time.
Late drama was afoot, though, when Najjarine popped up in the 97th minute to secure his brace and steal the win for City.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides sent out a strong XI for the first game of the campaign, with seven junior internationals amongst the starters.
James Delianov – who has at times backed up Eugene Galekovic at A-League level during the 2018/19 season – started between the posts, behind a back four of Mark Karlic, Mitch Graham, Lucas Portelli and Young Socceroo Dylan Pierias.
Young Socceroos Josh Cavallo and Connor Metcalfe and Joey Luke Duzel occupied the middle of the midfield for City, with Stefan Colakovski and Young Socceroo Najjarine on the wings.
Up front, recent A-League debutant and Young Socceroo Moudi Najjar led the City line.
Coming into the season hot on the heels of the 2018/19 Y-League season, signs looked promising for City after Colakovski sprung down the right to set up a dangerous looking chance in just the third minute of play.
It was followed three minutes later by the first clear cut chance to either side when Pierias – advancing up the field from his right back position – had a volleyed effort at the back-post ricochet of his boot and drift wide after being picked out by a Najjarine cross.
Trademark of their initial first-half chances, Langwarrin’s first clear sight of goal arrived off a Melbourne City error in the eighth minute when a wayward back pass from holding midfielder Cavallo sprung the hosts forward – only some desperate defending from the back four presenting the hosts from getting a shot off.
City quickly responded to the Langwarrin effort, however, with Duzel spraying an effort from just outside the penalty area wide just seconds later.
City’s bright start eventually bore fruit in the 17th minute, when a cross in from the left by Najjarine led to a frantic, confused attempt to clear the ball atop the six-yard-box by the Langwarrin defence.
Under pressure from Pierias, former City prospect and now Langwarrin defender Jaiden Madafferi inadvertently poked the ball past goalkeeper Fraser Maclaren and into the back of the net; gifting his former side a 1-0 lead.
Nevertheless, the early goal forced former Newcastle Jets and now Langwarrin gaffer Scott Miller into a tactical adjustment, throwing men forward in a suffocating press and giving City no peace as they looked to build from the back.
A series of free kicks by former Springvale White Eagle Damir Stoilovic that flashed serious danger for City gave early signs that momentum was shifting, before Jordan Templin and David Stirton truly swung momentum with chances on either side of the half an hour mark.
Parity was then almost restored once again in the 36th minute when Luis Covarrubias turned Lucas Portelli on the edge of the City penalty area and lashed a shot goalward only for Delianov to get down low and almost completely horizontal as he collected the ball.
Though Najjarine would go close to making to 2-0 just four minutes into the second half when he just failed to get a shot from an acute angle on target after cutting inside from the right Langwarrin’s press continued to give City significant problems.
Stoilovic was almost able to convert that pressure into a goal in the 52nd minute when he attempted to curl a long-range effort inside the far post from range but Langwarrin remained frustrated.
That frustration only grew four minutes later when they, against the run of play, found themselves down 2-0 when a lapse in defensive concentration on the left allowed Colakovski to begin the process of getting the ball to the byline and cutting it back inside.
Eventually, the ball fall to Najjar for the big number nine to sublimely turn his man and shoot.
Though Langwarrin keeper Fraser Maclaren proved up to the task of keeping Najjar’s shot out, he could do nothing to prevent Najjarine’s follow up effort from doubling City’s advantage.
Langy, however, refused to let up on their press in the wake of the second goal and continued to press.
They were rewarded for their endeavour in the 89th minute when Stirton, finally, grabbed a deserved goal for hosts and set up a barnstorming conclusion to the contest.
As the game ticked over to extra time and tensions began to become increasingly inflamed it seems as though the comeback had been completed when a rash challenge from second-half substitute Gianluca Iannucci brought down John Kuol inside the City penalty area.
Stepping up to take the set-piece, Stirton made no mistake from the penalty spot: sending Delianov the wrong way as he placed his low effort into the bottom corner of the net.
However, fate still had another twist to make in the contest when, with what was the last consequential move forward of the contest, Iannucci launched a dangerous cross-cum-shot in from the right.
Though Maclaren was able to reach up high and tip the ball away from its trajectory towards the top corner of the net, he was once again made to pay for not putting the ball out of play by Najjarine – who tapped the resulting loose ball into the net after ghosting into the area from the left wing.
Earlier in the day, Petr Kratky’s U20 side got off to the best possible start in their 2019 NPL Victoria campaign when they downed the youth of Langwarrin by an astounding 10-1 margin.
City will next week celebrate their first home game of the 2019 season when they welcome regional side Murray United to La Trobe University in Bundoora.
Murray United had a day to forget in their opening match of the season, suffering a 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Eastern Lions.