Melbourne City’s senior NPL side’s run of five games undefeated ended on Saturday, going down 5-3 to the Goulburn Valley Suns in Shepparton.
Though they had a chance to pull within three points of the Suns on the table with a win, things started badly for City on Saturday night; Fraser Gosstray putting the hosts ahead after just four minutes of play.
The lead was then doubled in the 17th minute when Alou Kuol got on the end of a ball in behind the City backline – a theme of the Suns’ chances throughout the night – and fired home.
City, though, was able to fire back and respond when, in the 20th minute, local lad Gianluca Iannucci got on the end of a ball from Dalibor Markovic and sent the ball into the back of the net. Five minutes later it was 2-2 when a worked corner saw the ball sneak out to the back post and a waiting Luke Oresti.
That parity was not to last, however, as just seconds later the Suns once again had the lead when Kuol was able to get on the end of a ball that spilled across the City area from left to right and make it 3-2. Vani Shamoon, somehow, then snaked his way through the City defence in the 33rd minute and slid a shot past Ahmad Taleb to make it 4-2 heading into halftime.
Harbouring a second half in which they would settle and, beginning to play a more recognisable City brand of football, take control of the contest, City pegged it back to 4-3 in the 53rd minute when he seized upon a loose ball and laced it into the bottom corner of the goal.
Nonetheless, despite their dominance, City was henceforth unable to find the back of the net in the remaining minutes of the contest; Jordan Montagner firing home a header from a corner in the 80th minute.
For Head Coach Petr Kratky, Saturday evening’s contest presented a huge challenge at the selection table.
Already without A-League capped Connor Metcalfe, Moudi Najjar and Ramy Najjarine, Kratky was also without the services of first-choice left-back Mark Karlic – still serving his suspension for a red card received against FC Bulleen Lions – and centre-back Mitch Graham – who was a late withdrawal in the warm-up.
Taleb started in goal for City, behind a back-four of Dalibor Markovic, Alec Mills, Bradley Chick and Daniel Lucente. In front of them sat Nick Hatzigeorgiou, Luke Duzel and Oresti. Upfront, Iannucci, Colakovski and Josh Varga looked to provide the goals.
Put behind the eight ball by Gosstray’s 4th-minute strike, City received a let-off in the 11th minute when a ball played in behind the back four enabled Kuol to sprint through and fire off a shot that Taleb was just able to deflect out for a corner.
The duelling goals from Kuol and Iannucci in the 17th and 20th minutes were then quickly followed by further chances for the two sides to net: a ball looped over the top of the defence for Kuol subsequently sent wide by the attacker in the 22nd minute and Duzel having a speculative effort from range in the 24th minute.
Kuol, following his second in the 26th minute after Oresti netted in the 25th, almost had his hattrick on the half an hour mark when yet another ball fired over the City defence sprung him forward in attack, only for this resulting shot to bounce off the crossbar.
Mercifully, Shamoon’s 33rd-minute goal proved to be the final, clear chance of the half – the two sides combining for six goals in just over a half-an-hour of frantic play at John McEwan reserve.
Momentum, perhaps due to the halftime break or a particularly rousing speech from Kratky, seemed to turn in the second 45, however, as City’s play – highlighted by Colakovki’s thunderous strike in the 53rd minute – was of much higher quality in the second stanza.
Whereas in the first half they had been unable to properly find a sense of cohesion, City was able to maintain possession for long periods of play as the second half progressed; able to keep the ball and launch multiple attacks in succession whilst also reducing the chances the Suns had to look to play in Kuol behind the defence.
Nevertheless, that’s not to say the Suns didn’t have chances against their young City opponents.
A free-kick from Jordan Barrow was well saved by Taleb in the 65th minute – with subsequent shots blocked by the City defence – and a defensive mixup that allowed Kuol to race in behind the City backline and fire off a shot that was magnificently saved by Taleb in the 69th minute.
Montagner’s header in the 80th minute proved to be the hammer blow, however, as the Suns restored their two-goal cushion and ensured all three points remained in Shepparton.
City will return back to Melbourne for their next fixture as they get set to welcome Ballarat City FC to the Veneto Club on Saturday night.
Bottom of the NPL2 Western Conference, Ballarat have just two wins and two draws to their name in 2019 – alongside 18 losses; their most recent of which was a 5-0 defeat at the hands of St Albans on Sunday.