A hattrick by former Hyundai A-League star Mitch Cooper has led Nunawading City FC to a four goals to one win over Melbourne City in Round 25 of the PS4 NPL2 Season – on a matchday that also saw City’s U20 side secure the Eastern Conference title.
Playing in the traditional curtain raiser slot before the seniors game – City’s U20s entered knowing that Box Hill U20s two goals to nil defeat at the hands of Springvale White Eagles U20s on Saturday meant that a win would secure them the Eastern Conference with two games left to play.
And coach Paddy Kisnorbo’s side would not let their chance go begging, outclassing Nunawading’s U20s on route to a three goals to nil win and the Eastern Conference Championship.
Despite often losing players to the senior NPL side; City’s U20s have been dominant throughout their campaign; losing on only five occasions and drawing twice en route to 19 wins and a goal difference of +43.
Their dominance this season was best encapsulated in one particular run of form that saw the side rattle off twelve games unbeaten – with the side winning ten games over that period.
It is the third conference championship in a row for Melbourne City’s U20 side – having captured the Western Conference Champtionship in 2015 and 2016.
City’s senior NPL side however, were unable to emulate the all-conquering ways of their U20 teammates in their clash with Nunawading’s senior side.
Nunawading City - featuring a quartet of former A-League players in Cooper, Jason Trifiro, James Brown and Patrick Gerhardt – scored three unanswered goals in the second to run over the top of the game and grab the three points after a back and forth opening 50 minutes.
City came into the clash missing several key players – with James Delianov, Dylan Pierias and Josh Cavallo in camp with the Young Socceroos, Jaiden Madafferi suspended after his red card against the Goulburn Valley Suns in Round 24, Nathanial Atkinson rested before a potential appearance with the A-League senior side in the FFA Cup on Tuesday and Yaren Sozer, Ali Eyigun and Lucas Derrick all missing through injury.
Speaking after the game, City Youth boss Joe Palatsides said of his sides missing talent:
“At this period of the year we’re blooding a lot of the young boys – we had two new debutants in the back four today.”
“We knew we were a bit inexperienced.”
These debutants were Nicholas Eres – who became the first player not named Delianov or Sozer to start an NPL game in goal for City in almost two years - and Yasin Nur starting at left back.
Eres was called in to action frequently in the first half – making his first senior NPL save on a shot from Brown in the tenth minute and twice denying Christopher Antoniadis with diving saves on shots that looked to be certain goals off the boot.
The young keeper was unable keep Nunawading out forever however, and in the 25th minute Cooper had the first of his eventual hattrick when he finished a move started by former Melbourne Heart defender Gerhardt.
Dispossessing City striker John Roberts with a hard challenge just inside the City half, Gerhardt played a ball through to Nunawading striker Devon Bonne. With a half yard of space, Bonne slid a ball through to an on-running Cooper on the right, who hit a low shot to across a wrong footed Eres and into the bottom left hand corner.
City almost levelled twice as the first half wore on – centre back Mersim Memeti and right back Kobe Timms combining on two set pieces to go close – but found themselves going into the break down one goal to nil.
An all too familiar pratfall almost struck City as the second half opened – when Nunawading were given a golden chance to snatch a goal immediately after the restart after Cooper was brought down in the area by Eres and awarded a penalty.
Stepping up to take the shot; Bonne blasted his effort towards the right hand corner only to see it palmed back into the field of play by a fully horizontal Eres – with the City defence scrambling the ball away in the scramble afterwards.
Speaking on the debuting Eres after the game; Palatsides said:
“Nick has come across really, really well. He started the year as a train on and now his rise has seen him play in the senior team. He’s made great strides already and he’s going to get better.”
“He made a few mistakes today but that’s part of being a young keeper. But generally speaking I think he had a solid debut as a goalkeeper. He pulled off some really good saves and the penalty save was a really good save that kept us in the game.”
Four minutes later after the penalty save City were level when John Roberts won a free kick for his side in a dangerous position around 25 yards out of the Nunawading goal.
Stepping up to take the kick, Memeti launched a thunderbolt in the direction of the top right-hand corner – clearing a diving Jordan Franken in the Nunawading goal, and levelled the scores at one apiece.
With City able to go a game clear of a pack of sides chasing them for third place on the NPL2 Eastern Conference table with a win, City looked to press their advantage after the goal – however an increasingly physical style of play and unseasonably warm conditions began to take their toll on Palatsides’ young side - who soon began to fade.
Increasingly in the ascendancy – Nunawading unleashed on City with a blistering 15 minutes period that saw them add three goals and put the result beyond doubt.
It began when Cooper grabbed his second in the 60th minute - City caught napping in defence as Brown looped a long free kick from his own half into the path of Cooper – who beat Nur and ran into space before putting the ball past Eres to make it two goals to one.
He had his third in the 72nd minute when poor marking by the City defence enabled him slip in behind a backpedaling Nur at the back post to meet a Trifiro corner and head it past Eres to make it three goals to one.
The icing was put on the cake four minutes later when Bonne – given too much time after he won the ball of the City defence just inside the City half – saw Eres off his line and launched a speculative effort that looped over the young goalkeeper and just under the cross bar and made it four goals to one.
Reflecting on his sides total effort after the game, Palatsides said:
“We probably fell away a little towards the end. I thought we were quite good in the first half and even though we were a goal down we were quite confident we would get it back at some point in the game”
“There were probably moments in the game were we did get punished. They’ve got some very experienced players, some A-League players, and there was times were we opened up a few holes and they exposed those holes.”
“It’s a good experience for the boys – but we were all disappointed that the score blew out to that because we thought we were quite competitive for the first 60 minutes I thought we were quite good.”
“You’ve got half a team of A-League players in there [Nunawading] so they can sense a moment where we may lapse and they exposed it a few times.”
“But we’re comfortable with the blooding of these young kids.”
Due to a recently announced fixture change by the FFV, City will return to action on Saturday the 5th of August in their final cross-conference matchof the season when they host Brunswick City SC at the City Football Academy.
Nunawading City FC: 4 (Mitch Cooper 25’ + 60’ + 72’ – Devon Bonne 76’)
Melbourne City FC: 1 (Mersim Memeti 50’)