Melbourne City's NPL side have overran Eastern Conference foes Springvale White Eagles FC in frigid conditions on Sunday to record a five goals to two win in their round 23 PS4 NPL2 Clash.
Goals on either side of the half by John Roberts, a second half brace from Zachary Bates and a late solo effort by Josh Cavallo were enough to secure the win for City – their first since their eight goals to two demolition of Bendigo City on June 17th.
Sitting in third position on the Eastern Conference table coming into the game, City had suffered defeat against Western Conference opposition in the previous two rounds - going down two goals to one at home against Sunshine George Cross SC and three goals to two away to Northcote City.
And early indications were not promising for City, with Springvale spending much of the opening ten minutes deep in City territory – Gavin de Niese, Boima Karpeh and Nathaniel Foster Bowen all looking particularly dangerous for the visitors – and City failing to register an attack until a long-range Lucas Derrick effort in the 11th minute of play unthreateningly sailed wide of the left hand post.
Often building through the middle, a physical Springvale – who came into the clash only three points behind third placed City despite sitting in sixth position themselves – looked menacing as they probed City for an early goal that the young City side have shipped all too often this season.
However, City’s new look back four of Jaiden Madafferi, Nenad Nikolic, Leo Athanasiou and Nathanial Atkinson held their shape well in front of goalkeeper Yaren Sozer – who started after James Delianov suffered a possible concussion against Northcote – and were able to soak up the early pressure.
City Youth boss Joe Palatsides said of the opening:
“They were a bit on top and I think conditions were a bit tricky with the wind. I thought that we handled ourselves quite well and slowly, slowly grew into the game and I thought we probably controlled it after that ten-minute patch.”
City’s growing control did become more obvious as the first half progressed and they were rewarded in the 36th minute when Roberts found the back of the net to give City the lead.
The move began in defence when left back Madafferi pounced on a contested ball before playing it up the park to left winger Derrick, who ran with the ball and beat his man before playing it through to Austin Wong.
Wong ran towards the Springvale goal before cutting the ball back to Roberts on the right side of the penalty area, who calmly slotted the ball home to give City the lead.
The goal marked the first in a City shirt for the AIS product and he didn’t have to wait long until he had his second – netting again four minutes after the second half kickoff.
Breaking through the middle, central midfielder Connor Metcalfe ran right at Springvale’s defenders before playing a quick one-two with Wong to find himself one on one with Springvale goalkeeper Lajos Hun.
Spying Roberts on his own across the area, Metcalfe unselfishly played a ball across the face of goal to wrongfoot Hun and give the City striker the easy tap in for his and City’s second.
Palatsides said of Roberts after the game: “John’s had an injury for quite a long time and it’s good that he’s gotten back and is ready to play 70 and 80 and even 90 minutes now. For him to get on the scoresheet is a bonus but you can see that he’s only 16 years old and he’s quite a capable young man”
The game soured even more for Springvale six minutes later in the 55th minute, when Karpeh saw red.
After initially only being cautioned for a challenge from behind that saw him bring down Atkinson, the striker then exchanged words with referee Dean Stafrace and was shown a second yellow for dissent.
City were unable to capitalize on their one-man advantage before they too had a player sent off.
Wrongfooted by a long ball over the top of defence in the 67th minute, Athanasiou got tangled up with Springvale’s Foster Bowen – who had replaced Karpeh as Springvale’s striker - and appeared to drag the attacker down just outside the centre circle.
Adjudged to have been the last man in defence and to have prevented a clear goal scoring opportunity – Athanasiou was shown a straight red card for his challenge and both men were back to level pegging at ten men apiece.
Despite losing their numerical advantage, City soon began to run over the top of Springvale as the second wore on as their fitness levels became more apparent.
Palatsides: “I think we pride ourselves on our physical conditioning and I think our whole sports science staff has done a great job throughout the NYL [Foxtel National Youth League] and NPL and we’ve been able to rotate the boys that haven’t played many games and the more seasoned boys to run out those 90 minutes hard”
“One of the things we find in the NPL is that we usually – in most occasions – run over the top of opposing teams. And we did that today and I think there’s some quality that was missing in some previous games so that helped as well.
A move that began with a Derrick run up the right before a cut back to an open goal for Bates – who had replaced Roberts in the 64th minute – made it three goals to nil in the 68th minute.
And twelve minutes later, a rampaging City had a three men on two through Derrick, Bates and Gerrie Sylaidos as they broke through the middle of the park. A sublime one-two between Bates and right winger Sylaidos resulted in another easy shot for Bates, getting him his brace and giving City their fourth on the day.
Speaking on Bates after the game, Palatsides said: “Zach Bates has come off a six, seven-month injury and he’s really worked well to work his way back into fitness and it’s great to see him get on the scoresheet.
Despite being overrun for much of the second, Springvale were able to capitalize on a number of lapses in the City defence’s concentration and grab two goals of their own.
Cutting off a pass deep in the City half Foster Bowen beat Sozer in a one on one to grab the hosts first in the 77th minute and later used his body to turn Nikolic inside out on a long ball over the top before cheekily chipping the still bouncing ball over a charging Sozer in the 90th minute for his second on the day.
On Springvale’s goals, Palatsides said: “I think they were lapses – and we’ve been having a few lapses. Today a ball went over the top and we conceded again. We are working on that – we’re identifying that and hopefully we get better at it”
Despite those lapses, City re-established their dominance late in the piece when a long range Sylaidos effort in the 92nd minute was saved by Hun, only for Cavallo to pounce on the rebound and net City’s fifth on the day.
The five goals to two win, combined with results elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, mean that City will extend the gap between themselves and fourth placed Murray United to four points with five games remaining on the season.
Next week City will play hosts to the fifth placed Goulburn Valley Suns, who were held to a one all draw with the Eastern Lions in their round 23 game.
Earlier in the day, City’s U20 side were held to a two all draw with Springvale’s U20 side. The result means that City’s lead at the top of the U20 Eastern Conference table has shrunk to four points over second placed Box Hill United – with the City and Box Hill’s clash in the final round of the season looming as a potential de facto grand final.
Melbourne City: 5 (John Roberts 36' + 49', Zach Bates 68’ + 80', Joshua Cavallo 92’)
Springvale White Eagles FC: 2 (Nathaniel Foster Bowen 77' + 90')