Melbourne City FC have succumbed to a quick-fire blitz from St Albans Saints in a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat at Churchill Reserve on Sunday afternoon.
After a commanding first-half performance which yielded a plethora of goalscoring opportunities, City finally took a deserved lead in the 55th minute after a deflected effort from Stefan Zinni deceived Saints goalkeeper Stuart Webster.
But two goals in five minutes from Ryan McGuffie and Barry Devlin completed a remarkable second half comeback for St Albans, as City struggled to cope with a ruthless physical barrage in a fiery encounter.
City dominated possession throughout the opening half and had their first sight on goal after just three minutes, with a clever snapshot from Wade Dekker forcing Webster into a routine catch at the near post.
Webster was proving to be the busier keeper in the first half and produced a moment of brilliance in the sixth minute to keep the scores level, beating away a bullet free-kick from Mehdi Sarwari before springing up quickly to smother the follow up from Dekker.
The home side adopted a largely physical approach to curb City’s strength in attack, with the dangerous Zinni coming under close attention from Devlin in particular as the Saints defenders stamped their authority on the match.
However City continued to pile on the pressure, with Zinni firing in a shot wide of the post in the 13th minute before Webster brilliantly palmed a curling free-kick from Anthony Rizk out of the top corner.
The Saints rarely threatened throughout the first period and only had one chance of note in 30thminute when Trent Waterson’s strike trickled narrowly wide of the right hand post.
Sarwari had an opportunity open the scoring in the 34th minute after a superb ball from Ali Eiygun released him inside the penalty area, but he could only send his effort into the side netting as both sides entered the break on level terms.
The breakthrough was finally made early in the second half when Zinni fired City into the lead. The winger used his trademark pace to burst into the penalty area and despite being on a tight angle, launched an effort which took a wicked deflection and deceived the stranded Webster.
The goal immediately sparked the Saints into action, with Waterson wasting a golden opportunity to level the scores in the 61st minute, spraying his shot wide with only Sozer left to beat.
The miss wouldn’t prove to be too costly as the Saints were awarded a penalty in the 72nd minute when Nick Scerri was fouled inside the area, with McGuffin duly sending Sozer the wrong way to level the scores.
And the turnaround was complete only five minutes later when Devlin rose highest at a corner to smash home a powerful header and give St Albans the lead with 15 minutes left to play.
The Saints were full of confidence after taking the lead and began to overrun a deflated City outfit, with Sozer producing a magnificent save to parry away a goal bound header from Ross Harvey.
A late-free kick provided City with an opportunity to salvage a point, but Leo Athanasiou’s arrowing set piece was met by the strong fist of Webster as the Saints hung on to claim an important victory.
Melbourne City FC 1 (Stefan ZINNI 55’)
St Albans Saints 2 (Ryan McGUFFIE 72’ pen, Barry DEVLIN 77’)
Melbourne City FC Line-up: 1. Yaren SOZER (GK), 4. Jordon HALL, 5. Leo ATHANASIOU, 9. Wade DEKKER, 11. Stefan ZINNI, 12. Anthony RIZK (Ratip CILELI 81’), 14. Baki EFE, 15. Luke GALLO, 16. Matthew MILLAR, 21. Ali EIYGUN (tom BARFOROSH 90’), 22. Mehdi SARWARI (Anthony TARANTO 81’)
Substitutes not used: 17. Joseph MONEK, 20. Yianni SKLIROS.
Yellow cards: nil
Red cards: nil
St Albans Saints Line-up: 1. Stuart WEBSTER (GK), 2. Ryan McGUFFIE, 3. Nana-Yew OTUOACHEAMPONG, 4. Nicholas SARBIN, 5. Tedros YABIO (Konrad DOBRASZKEIWICZ 74’), 7. Trent WATERSON, 8. Ross HARVEY, 9. Barry DEVLIN, 10. Tomislav TEBUHOVIC, 11. Nick SCERRI (Daniel SWEENEY 75’), 18. Ben SHAPER (Anthony BORAS 77’).
Substitutes not used: 17. Matko BUDMIR, 21. John SCOLLO
Yellow cards: Sarbin 14’, Otuoachempong 36’, Tebuhovic 61’, Scerri 73', Dobraszkeiwicz 85’
Red cards: nil