A late goal has condemned Melbourne City to defeat at the hands of the Golden Valley Suns in frigid conditions at LaTrobe University in round 24 of the PS4 NPL2 Season.
A 68th minute penalty by Austin Wong and two goals in two minutes from Dylan Pierias were not enough for City on the day; with the Suns’ Robert Hughes’ brace supplemented by Jamie England and Fabrice Ebe to see the Suns run out with a four goals to three win.
With the Suns coming into the game needing a win to keep alive any realistic chance of overhauling City for third position on the Eastern Conference table; the contest was marked with a physical style of play – with emotions threatening to boil over on several occasions.
Suns right winger Hughes and City left back Jaiden Madafferi in particular clashed numerous times throughout the contest – with their battle coming to a head in the 52nd minute when Madafferi received his marching orders after receiving his second yellow card of the contest after a foul on Hughes.
At the time of the young left back’s dismissal the score was still one goal to nil in favour of the Suns
That goal had come in the 18th minute after the Suns’ England intercepted an attempted pass out of the penalty area by City goalkeeper Yaren Sozer and laid the ball out Craig Carley for a shot that was deflected out into the path of Hughes. Collecting the ball in some space outside the area, Hughes drove a low shot into the corner to seize the early momentum.
The chance was a direct result of the intense forward pressure that the Suns exhibited throughout the contest. Combined with their frequent long balls over the top, their tactic of throwing large numbers forward to prevent City from easily playing the ball out of the backline presented a real challenge to a backline that was missing centre backs Ali Eyigun (Injury) and Leo Athanasiou (Suspension).
Remarking on the Suns style of play, City youth boss Joe Palatsides said:
“We thought that they were going to play long. Look, they played [Possession based football] more than we thought they would. But we were prepared for that and we were talking about how we were going to hunt for that second ball and make sure we won that second ball.”
With City reduced to ten men after Madafferi’s dismissal the floodgates threatened to open five minutes later when the Suns scored their second from the penalty spot.
Played into space with another ball over the top of the City defence, Carley was brought down inside the penalty area by Zachary Bates – who had moved from his starting position on the wing to the left back position in the wake of Madafferi’s red card – who saw yellow as a result.
Stepping up to the spot England – the Suns captain – made no mistake; putting the ball into the bottom left corner to give the Suns a two goals to nil lead to go with their one man advantage.
However, despite the pressure, City refused to concede - fighting their way back into the contest. And they were soon rewarded when they reduced the deficit to one with a spot kick of their own.
Scrambling for the ball after a Mersim Memeti cross spilled free, John Roberts was adjudged to have been fouled by Suns keeper Muntadhar Al Gazaly on the edge of the six yard box.
Wong stepped up to the spot for City and drove a thunderbolt into the bottom left corner to make it two goal to one.
The momentum swinging, City were back on level terms in the 74th minute when Lucas Derrick won a free kick in a dangerous area just outside the penalty box.
Memeti, whose distribution was impressive all day, floated a beautiful ball onto the far edge of the six-yard box from the resulting free kick, where Pierias rose unchallenged to meet it – heading it home and bringing City back level.
A minute later ten-man City were in front when Pierias netted again, this time blasting the ball in with his right foot from the edge of the penalty area.
Holding an improbable lead, City began to throw numbers behind to defend their lead – looking like they were losing the desperation that had marked their comeback.
Palatsides: “We talked a bit about how you worked so hard to get there [The three goals to two lead] and then just took our foot of the pedal.”
“If you don’t defend with your life you’re always going to conceded something.”
And concede they did, when in the 85th minute a deflection on a speculative effort by an unmarked Ebe guided the ball past a wrong-footed Sozer and found the back of the net, bringing the scores back to three apiece.
And the Suns retook the lead three minutes later when Hughes netted his second. Popping up next to a loose ball on the edge of the area – this time after City failed to properly clear a Suns corner – the winger threaded a low shot into the net to give the Suns the four goals to three lead.
Sozer and the City coaching staff protested – claiming that a Suns player in an offside position had interfered with Sozer as the shot came in – but the referee signalled that the goal stood and two minutes later the final whistle gave the Suns their second win over City this season.
Palatsides: “We sort of thought at three-two we could sit back. But when you sit back you still need to press in the right areas, you still need to cover in the right areas and we didn’t do that. And we got punished for it.”
Despite the late goals condemning City to defeat, Palatsides expressed his pride in the fighting spirit of his young charges to get back in the game.
“We did conceded half way through that first half and then you’re behind the eight ball a bit and you’re trying to catch up.”
“I was really proud of the boys to be two nil down, with ten men, and to turn the game around the way they did. We showed a bit of quality, we showed a bit of character and there’s more to being an A-League footballer than being able to control the ball and pass the ball – it’s about how much you want to win and the desire you have on both ends. I commend them for that.”
The result – combined with Murray United’s loss to Richmond SC in other round 24 action – means that City retain third position on the table with four rounds remaining. They sit two points clear of the Suns – who leapfrog rivals Murray United – in fourth place and four points clear of the fifth placed Murray United.
City will next week travel to face Nunawading City – who lost three goals to two against the Springvale White Eagles in their Round 24 game.
Melbourne City: 3 (Austin Wong 68’, Dylan Pierias 74’ + 75’
Goulburn Valley Suns FC: 4 (Robert Hughes 18’ + 88’ , Jamie England 57’, Fabrice Ebe 85’)