City have overcome a physical effort from the Goulburn Valley Suns to return to the winner’s list, defeating the regional outfit 6-1 on Saturday.
Gianluca Iannucci and Moudi Najjar were the heroes for City, the pair netting three goals each as City weathered a hail of late challenges and stray kicks from their opposition to pick up the win.
The result, at least temporarily, sees City rise to fourth place on the NPL2 Eastern Conference table with three wins and two losses so far on the season.
Acting head coach Lachlan Armstrong, despite the 3-0 loss to Murray United last week, retained faith in his group, naming a starting XI unchanged from the previous round.
Mark Karlic Mitch Graham, Lucas Portelli and Dylan Pierias made up the back four, with Young Socceroo goalkeeper James Delianov in behind them.
The six role was Luke Duzel’s, the youngster getting his second start in as many weeks with Anthony Lesiotis still absent.
City’s dangerous attack all took up their regular roles in front of Duzel.
Young Socceroos Josh Cavallo and Denis Genreau patrolled the middle, sitting behind the trio of Iannucci, Najjar and Zac Bates.
City began brightly in the windy conditions at La Trobe, their ball movement right from the word go clearly a step above that of their Shepparton based rivals.
It would almost bear fruit immediately, when Cavallo intercepted a wayward Suns ball in the middle of the park before feeding the ball in behind the defence for Najjar.
Hesitating, Najjar would lose his chance to shoot, forced instead to cut the ball back into the middle to Bates, the resulting shot going just wide.
City would follow that chance another two within 30 seconds; Pierias bursting through the Suns lines on the right and extracting a save from Suns keeper Fraser Greenwood, followed by Karlic forcing Greenwood to parry away a shot that Najjar was almost on the spot to follow up.
The City onslaught eventually bore fruit nevertheless, when in the 8th minute of play Karlic and Iannucci would produce some fine back-and-forth play to create City’s first.
Advancing up the left, Karlic and Iannucci knocked the ball between themselves to clear two Suns defenders before Karlic reached the edge of the penalty area.
He would then slide the ball across to Iannucci, the Cobram born winger collecting the ball, swivelling and launching an absolute peach of a shot into the top corner of the net to give City the 1-0 lead.
The move was indicative of the game City played in the preliminary stages, their tiki taka passing putting them one step ahead of the Suns.
They would have another goal in the 15th minute, only to this time be denied by the linesman’s flag.
City worked the ball to Bates on the right, the winger then floating a perfectly weighted cross into the area for Najjar, who guided his header across Greenwood and into the corner of the net – only to discover that he had done so from an offside position.
It was at this point that the free-flowing nature of the game would increasingly give way to physicality; the referees insistence on keeping his cards in his pocket leading to an increasingly aggressive playstyle from the Suns.
It would result in several stoppages of play, both sides frequently coming together in what one might charitably described as spirited disagreements; the referee struggling to maintain control of the game as both sides butted heads.
It all came to a head in the 26th minute, when Karlic – who had been hacked down by a Suns player – lashed out in retaliation.
Suns players and officials on the sidelines were adamant that the young left-back had punched their player in the face, a point perhaps reinforced by the blood coming from his nose.
Karlic denied it however, and after a 7 to 8-minute halt to play – both to break up yet another fracas between the two sides and allow the referees time to deliberate – Karlic was ultimately shown a yellow card.
The game would then resume, and on 32 minutes City would strike back in a way that would hurt the Suns in more ways than any other – on the scoreboard.
Genreau, collecting the ball on the right, would break past several Suns defenders before cutting the ball back across the face of goal to Duzel atop the area.
Duzel would continue the balls movement, feeding it to Iannucci on the left, who slid a low shot into the bottom corner for City’s second of the game.
It was just on the stroke of halftime that the Suns would finally get their first shot on target.
Scrambling back, Portelli would bring down the Suns Stefan Papageorgiou around 30 yards out from goal, giving them a late chance at goal.
William Marshall would step up to take the free kick; launching a long-range effort that seemed destined to make it 2-1, only for an at full stretch Delianov to get a hand on it to deny him.
City would make the Suns rue the late missed chance, when four minutes after play resumed for the second half Iannucci would nab his hat-trick.
Running onto a through ball, Najjar would find himself under too much pressure from the Suns defence to launch a shot himself, instead cutting the ball back to a waiting Iannucci atop the penalty area.
The country boy would then launch an effort that slid past Greenwood and into the bottom of the net.
The clumsiest thing about the move may have been the 16-year-olds celebration that followed it; Iannucci looking to pull out a backflip, only to not quite nail the landing as he was forced to one knee to retain his balance.
This three-goal lead to City did little to calm the game however, and three minutes later the inability of the referee to properly control proceedings came to a head, when a late sliding challenge from the Suns Mathew Lelliot brought down Karlic.
The tackle sparked an all-in, as both sides clashed above a fallen Karlic as City trainers brought a stretcher onto the field.
Finally regaining order after several minutes, the referee would flash a yellow in Lelliot’s direction before resuming play.
Perhaps affronted by the Suns seeming insistence on playing the man instead of the ball, City’s Najjar would flick the switch from that point, grabbing a hat-trick of his own in 20 minutes.
His first would come in the 68th minute, running on to a ball played in behind the Suns defence and rounding Greenwood before calmly rolling the ball over the line.
It was followed by another in the 75th, getting on the end of a cross set up by some sublime work by Pierias, and the 88th, latching on the end of another through ball and putting it in the bottom corner.
The Suns would get a consolation goal of their own to restore some sense of pride, Jamie England running the ball through the City defence before beating Delianov to his right in the 84th, but the day was without a doubt City’s.
City will be at home once again next week, preparing to welcome the Springvale White Eagles to La Trobe University.
The White Eagles of Springvale finished eight points adrift of City in last years NPL2 East table, ending the year in seventh position on the ten-team table with 32 points and a goal difference of -14.
On top of this dominance on the table, City well and truly have the wood over their South-Eastern suburbs-based rivals in the head-to-head meetings between the two clubs; defeating them 3-1 at White Eagles Stadium in round 7 and winning the return leg at La Trobe 5-2.