NPL Wrap: City demolish Ballarat in return to winner's circle

Melbourne City’s NPL side has, finally, returned to the winner's list after recording seven straight defeats; dispatching regional side Ballarat City 5-2 in this past weekend’s NPL2 action.

When in the midst of a losing run like the one that City found themselves in, a little luck is often required to turn things around; and that’s exactly what City received in only the fourth minute of Saturday evening’s contest when Gianluca Iannucci put City up 1-0.

Passing the ball well between themselves, City worked the play out to Iannucci on the right wing. Hustling down the line, Iannucci would look to swing a cross into the area, only for the ball to get away from him.

Fortune smiled upon the young winger though, with his wayward cross fooling Ballarat keeper Ryan Schorback and sneaking just inside the far post.

Just under ten minutes later City found themselves 2-0 up, with Iannucci’s pass this time not finding the net, but instead scything through the Ballarat defence and into the path of Moudi Najjar. The City striker would coolly slide the ball home after collecting, giving his side the best start they could have hoped for.

Despite creating further chances – Lucas Portelli and Luke Duzel, in particular, going close with fantastic long-range efforts – City went into the halftime break with only that two-goal lead, albeit in much-satisfied state after what one of the City coaching staff described as their best half of football of the year.

The dark prospect of a second-half swoon – one so often produced by City during their losing run – raised its head 48th of the contest though, when Ballarat danger-man Michael Trigger did well to shrug off the close attention of the City defence and swing a ball in from the right.

A scrambling City found themselves unable to properly clear the danger, with the ball instead falling to Ballarat’s Kazuki Okada: who duly poked a close-range shot home to make it 2-1.

Thoughts of a second-half collapse were put paid to, however, when the 56th-minute introduction of Ramy Najjarine providing an injection of initiative into the City attack that was rewarded only two minutes later.  

Cutting back inside from the right wing, Iannucci beat his Ballarat marker before acutely cutting the ball back to the top of the area for a waiting Yusuf Ahmed.

Ahmed calmly took a touch before shooting inside the far post, giving City back their two-goal lead and netting his 10th goal of the season.

On the hour mark City would all but seal their first three points in two months when set-piece specialist Duzel stepped up to take a free-kick from a dangerous position around 20 yards from goal. The youngster then made no mistake, curling a low effort around the assembled Ballarat wall and into the bottom corner of the goal.

A 91st-minute strike by Najjar would add the cherry on the sundae for City, Trigger’s 93rd-minute consolation goal for Ballarat not enough to dampen the mood that resulted from finally grabbing an elusive win.

Earlier in the evening, City’s U20s would suffer a disappointing loss in the day’s curtain raiser when they went down 4-3 to the 20s of Ballarat.

Luca Tevere opened the scoring for City in that contest, getting on the end of a fantastic cross into the area with his head in the 38th minute. Xagai Douhadji answered back for Ballarat only five minutes later, however, meaning that the game went into halftime locked at 1-1.

Sam Morrison would have City back in front only four minutes after the re-start with his ninth U20 goal of the season, but then Ballarat’s Lunophare Folly came alive.

Combining good hustle with some calamitous errors from the City backline, the Ballarat attacker scored in the 56th, 67th and 69th minutes to put his side ahead.

Morrison got one back for City in the 82nd minute, but it was too little, too late: City’s U20s tasting defeat for the first time in five matches.

It was a mixed bag for City’s other academy sides against the Eastern Lions on Sunday: Simon Zappia’s U15s suffering a 2-1 defeat but Davey van ‘t Schip’s U18s recording a thumping 7-1 win.

Justin Paolilli had his goal sandwiched between the Lions goal in the U15s match, while in the 18s contest goals to Jake Parish (2), Jordi Valadon, Emile Peios, Darcy Anastovski, Adam El Hayek and Matthew Grimaldi powered a dominating display.