NPL Wrap: 20s score gritty win as senior's let lead slip late

A madcap final 20 minutes saw Melbourne City’s Senior NPL side’s 3-1 lead over the Goulburn Valley Suns slip away on Saturday evening, the spoils eventually shared as City’s road trip to Shepparton ended in a 3-3 draw.

After making the long bus ride up to Shepparton, City’s senior NPL side started strongly against the Suns; seizing the lions share of early possession as they knocked the ball amongst themselves in the game’s opening ten minutes.

Despite this monopolisation of possession though, it was the Suns that had the best of the early phases of the game as set pieces chances from defender Jordan Barrow kept City goalkeeper James Delianov on his toes.

On 20 minutes, the Suns were able to create their first clear goalscoring chance from open play and were able to make it count: Suns’ striker Alou Kuol netting his fourth goal of the season.

Getting on the end of a ball William Marshall perfectly scythed through the City backline, Kuol advanced confidently towards the City goal, drawing Delianov off his line, before coolly sliding the ball past the City custodian to give his side the lead.

Spurred into action, City would secure an equaliser only four minutes later after some fantastic build-up play from Yusuf Ahmed.

Collecting the ball in the midfield as City looked to counter, Ahmed cut across the field from left to right as he advanced forward, shrugging off defenders as he went.

Eventually getting to the byline, Ahmed was able to swing a looping cross into the Suns’ penalty area. Floating to the far post, the ball was met by striker Moudi Najjar, who headed home to secure his 13th goal of the season and bring City level.

Further chances to Dylan Pierias and Najjar would follow, but City was unable to grab a second goal as the half wound down, the two sides going into the break locked at a goal apiece.

City came out strong following the restart, winger Ramy Najjarine forcing Suns’ keeper Fraser Greenwood into a diving save in the 52nd minute after being played through by Ahmed.

Five minutes later, Najjarine would once again give the Suns’ defence fits as he cut inside from the right, forcing a sloppy challenge that brought him down and winning City a penalty.

Stepping up to take the spot kick that he had won, Najjarine made to mistake with his chance; hammering a nigh-unstoppable effort into the roof of the net to give City a deserved lead.

Despite the Suns having a couple of chances to equalise following Najjarine’s effort, City was once again on the scoresheet in the 69th minute after defender Mark Karlic grabbed a rare goal to make it 3-1.

Receiving the ball after City had worked the ball from right to left, Karlic had time outside the Suns’ penalty area to tee up a long-range effort and blasted a superb left-footed effort past a leaping Greenwood and into the top corner of the net.

With a two-goal buffer with only 20 minutes left to play City looked to be sitting pretty, but nobody had told the Suns.

Barrow, who had had a number of set pieces trouble Delianov throughout the night, found pay dirt with a fantastically taken long-range free kick in the 71st minute to announce the Suns’ fightback.

Throwing men forward in search of an equaliser, the Suns were rewarded for their endeavour when in the 85th minute a long range throw from Barrow spilled to the turf in the City penalty area.

A scramble for the loose ball developed, with Delianov, City defenders, and Suns’ attackers all hurling themselves after the ball. Eventually, the Suns Marshall was able to get a boot on the ball, poking it home a bringing his side back level.

Despite City going down a man when Josh Cavallo received two yellow cards in a minute in the 93rd, City was able to prevent the Suns from stealing the win with another goal, both sides taking a point from the game.

Earlier in the day, City’s U20s had secured a gritty 3-2 win over the U20s of the Suns, scoring an 88th-minute winner despite being reduced to nine men late in the contest.

After falling behind in only the 5th thanks to a strike from the Suns’ Thomas Corso, a sustained period of dominance finally saw City hit back in the 27th minute when Giovanni Stellitano found the back of the net.

Dalibor Markovic scored in the 67th minute of play to give City the lead, but the Suns found themselves level only seconds later when a penalty from Vincent Barca just snuck under City keeper Liam Kennedy.  

In bizarre scenes, the Suns were somehow allowed by the referee to take the kick-off following their penalty, launching a quick attack that caught a quite reasonably taken aback City unaware and winning a corner.

Three minutes later, referee Peter Gebauer produced two red cards in a minute as he dismissed City’s Harry Politidis and Markovic; leaving City with only nine men for the final 20 minutes.

Despite this, City was somehow able to keep themselves in the game and was rewarded for their bravery in the dying minutes of the game; Stellitano grabbing his second of the game in the 88th minute.

Swamped by teammates, it was Stellitano’s seventh goal of the season and proved the difference, City running out with a 3-2 win.