Melbourne City’s senior NPL side continued its impressive turnaround in form on Saturday; recording a heart-stopping, 4-3 win over Box Hill United to stretch their unbeaten run in the NPL2 to five games.
Entering the contest engaged in a concerted push to overhaul sixth place on the NPL2 Eastern Conference table and ensure their place in the Victorian second tier in 2020, things started well for Head Coach Petr Kratky’s side on Saturday when they went ahead after only five minutes when Gianluca Iannucci converted a penalty.
Unfortunately for City, Jamie Mammino’s interception of their attempt to play out from the back and resulting goal tied things back up just five minutes later.
City then went on to take the lead in the 27th minute when Iannucci slid a ball in behind the defence for Raphael Borges Rodrigues to run onto. Showing confidence that defied his senior NPL debutant status, the young winger promptly slid home to make it 2-1.
Nonetheless, Box Hill was once again able to answer back just five minutes before the halftime break when wide-man Nino Lacignina got to the byline and whipped a low cross across the area that skittled all except Pythagoras’ Rowan McNamee - who tapped home.
Coming out of the blocks firing, back-to-back stunning strikes from Iannucci and Emile Peios early in the second half combined to give City a 4-2 lead.
Box Hill, however, refused to back down in the face of the deficit and threw everything they had at Kratky’s side, dragging one back in the 71st minute through McNamee.
Fortunately for the boys in City Blue, they were able to hold their nerve and stage an effective enough rear-guard to defend their lead and ensure that all three points would head to the City Football Academy.
The result means that City has closed to within six points of sixth-placed Goulburn Valley Suns heading into the final weeks of the NPL2 season, whilst also maintaining a game in hand on their regional rivals.
Earlier in the day, City’s U20s, despite a brace from Australian U17 representative Jordy Bos, suffered a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Box Hill’s 20s.
With the pre-season for City’s senior A-League side commencing under new gaffer Erick Mombaerts and several players recently away with Australia’s U17 side; a number of changes were forced upon Kratky heading into the meeting with Pythagoras.
Ahmad Taleb started in goal for City, behind a regular back four of Bradley Chick, Mitch Graham, Alec Mills and Daniel Lucente.
Nicholas Hatzigeorgiou and Peios started at the base of the midfield, with Luke Oresti stationed in front of them as the ten.
Stefan Colakovski and Borges Rodrigues started on the wings and Iannucci made the move into the middle of the park to serve as the tip of City’s spear.
Things started off magnificently for City when a cross in from Borges Rodrigues caused havoc in the Box Hill penalty area: eventually bouncing up and careening into the hand of a defender.
Stepping up to take the resulting spot-kick, Iannucci made no mistake as he hammered an effort into the bottom corner of the net to make it 1-0 City.
Box Hill looked to respond through McNamee in the ninth minute when he was played in behind the City defence, but the attacker could only put his resulting effort over the bar.
Seconds later, however, Box Hill was able to force their way back level when Mammino pounced on a wayward pass in the City backline, raced in on goal and fired past Taleb to tie things up.
Box Hill almost added to City’s misery through Lacagnina in the 21st minute when the Box Hill wide man blasted another effort over the frame of the goal. Iannucci promptly fired back for City with an in swinging free kick after Lucente was hacked down outside the area in the 24th minute, forcing a strong save from Box Hill goalkeeper Chris Pavlidis.
Two minutes later, though, Pavlidis could do nothing when Iannucci laced a ball in behind the Pythagoras’ lines for Borges Rodrigues to run onto and slide home.
Borges Rodrigues almost had a double just minutes later when he got his head to a ball whipped into the are by Lucente, only for the ball to bounce wide of the goals.
A ball deflected off the referee and into the path of Mammino gave the Box Hill attacker an unlikely opportunity to test Taleb from range in the 34th minute, before his side brought the contest back to equilibrium in the 40th minute when Lacagnina got the byline and whipped in a ball for McNamee to tap home.
The game’s sense of parity only lasted for eight minutes in the second half, however, as Iannucci found himself with enough time and space outside the Box Hill penalty area in the 53rd minute to tee up a long range effort that nestled itself in the back of the net despite a desperate dive from Pavlidis.
Five minutes later it was 4-2 to City when Oresti produced another moment of magic outside the Box Hill penalty area: receiving a bouncing ball, flicking it up to himself and then hammering home.
Despite City’s blistering start to the second half, though, a desperate Box Hill then began to force their way back into the contest and made it 4-3 in the 71st minute when a well struck shot from Mammino was parried away by Taleb into the path of McNamee – who promptly fired home.
Nonetheless, despite their best efforts, that would be the final occasion when Box Hill was able to find the net in the contest.
Stiffening their defence as well as riding their luck, City’s was able to endure the fierce pressure that was heaped upon them by the visitors in the final stages of the contest; Mammino having the best of Box Hill’s final chances when he had a long-range shot that Taleb juggled but eventually held in the 81st minute.
City’s thoughts will now turn next Saturday when they travel north for a huge meeting with the sixth-placed Goulburn Valley Suns in Shepparton at 7:00 pm.