Melbourne City suffered a three goals to two defeat at the hands of Western Conference pacesetters Northcote City FC on Saturday in Round 21 of the PS4 NPL2 Season.
City came into the game as underdogs against a Northcote side that has steamrolled its way to the top of the Western Conference table over the course of the season – however, it was that City dominated for much of the first half.
Outstanding performances by Nathanial Atkinson and Josh Cavallo helped City to get back to the lateral movement and possession based style that they had gotten away from in the previous weeks clash with Sunshine George Cross SC throughout much of the first half.
However, City were once again haunted by what is now becoming a set of familiar features in their games over the course of the second half of the season: Conceding early goals and from set pieces.
It was only four minutes into the contest when Northcote won a free kick about 35 yards out from the City goal after Kobe Timms was booked for a late sliding challenge.
The subsequent free kick by Northcote’s Baggio Yousif was looped over the top of the gathered pack on the penalty spot before flashing across the face of the goal before falling to former City Football Academy prospect - now Northcote player - Tomislav Fadljevic at the far post.
Fadljevic’s side footed effort slid to the left of a wrongfooted James Delianov in the City goal and gave Northcote the early lead.
Perhaps jolted into alertness by the goal - City looked strong from the restart and slowly began to exert control of the game against a side that was noticeably bigger than themselves.
Countering quickly out of defence, City often found themselves overloading the middle of the park through midfielders Austin Wong,Cavallo and Anthony Theodoropolous or breaking clear down the wings; especially through Lucas Derrick down the right.
City's play soon meant it looked like it would be a matter of when – not if – City would grab a goal of their own and that moment finally arrived in the 36th minute when Atkinson grabbed one of the best goals City have scored all year.
Winning a one on one heading contest about 25 yards out on the left wing after a half-hearted clearance by the Northcote defence; Atkinson knocked the ball inside before hitting a half volleyed shot that curled beautifully past a diving Phil Petrovski in the Northcote goal and into the right hand corner to bring the game level.
City almost had the lead five minutes later when Atkinson played a looping through ball over the Northcote defence into the path of Derrick on the edge of the area – with the winger having a clear shot at goal.
However, the winger’s first touch let him down – with his attempt at controlling the ball getting away from him and rolling gently into the hands of Petrovski.
City’s dominance in the first would not continue into the second however – with their Western Conference foes bursting out of the gate to force City back on their heels right from the off.
Frequent balls into the box – as well as City’s inability to properly clear the ball in a convincing matter made every Northcote attack look menacing – with Northcote’s big centre forward Adam Wright constantly popping up in threatening positions
Delianov was immense in keeping City in the game however – the senior contracted player forced into a series of spectacular saves as the half progressed in a performance that would no doubt have caught the eye of A League coach Warren Joyce in the stands.
City’s continued desperate defence was dealt a severe blow when on 58 minutes Ali Eyigun went down with an injury attempting to halt an attack Northcote had mounted down the right wing.
Staying down after play had halted, the defender – who has captained City on numerous occasions through the NPL2 Campaign – had to be carried off by Theodoropolous before being replaced by Stefan Colakovski – with Atkinson sliding into his position next to Leo Athanasiou in the centre of the City defence.
Northcote continued to press their advantage in search of a lead until – against the run of play – it was City who grabbed the lead after they countered quickly through the middle in the 82nd minute.
After a series of brilliant pieces of skill by John Roberts the ball fell to Wong on the edge of the area.
Doing what he had done numerous times throughout the season; the central midfielder put the ball into the back of the net with a superb long-range effort and gave City the two goals to one advantage.
City’s hoped of pulling the upset were short lived however – as Northcote caught the young City side napping from the kickoff to grab an equalizer through Adam Wright.
Played through from a long ball, the striker had no problem beating the napping City defence to stab a low effort past Delianov and bring the game back to level pegging.
The goal stunned the young City side – and three minutes later in the 86th Northcote capitalized on their second half dominance to seize the lead through George Stavridis from another set piece.
The big defender had come up the field to contest a corner and – following City’s failure to clear the initial danger – poked in a ball from the edge of six-yard box after a goalmouth scramble to give Northcote the lead with four minutes to go.
The game ended on a sour note for both sides when Wright and Delianov collided after Delianov saved a shot from what would prove to be the last kick of the game.
Both players stayed down for several minutes – and continued to stay down after the final whistle blew.
Delianov underwent a concussion test after the game and will be monitored closely by the medical staff in the lead in to next week’s game.
The result is likely to ramp up the pressure on City in third place on the table – with both the Goulburn Valley Suns and Murray United offered to the opportunity make up ground in their games.
Earlier in the day City’s U20 side also suffered defeat – going down one goal to nil at the hands of Northcote’s U20 side.
Northcote City FC: 3 (Tomislav Fadljevic 4’, Adam Wright 83’, George Stavridis 86’)
Melbourne City FC: 2 (Nathanial Atkinson 36’, Austin Wong 82’)