Melbourne City’s senior NPL side ended their season with a win on Saturday afternoon, defeating Langwarrin SC 1-0 at La Trobe University.
City entered Saturday’s contest with the knowledge that a loss to Langwarrin – who defeated City 3-1 in their previous encounter this season – could result in them dropping as low as eighth place on the final NPL2 Eastern Conference Table.
This defeat would also have to be kept at bay by a City squad that entered Saturday missing a number of key players to Young Socceroos duty and forced to manage the fatigue levels of a number of Joeys; who departed to join Australia’s U16 team Sunday.
Compounding matters even further, eight of the players available to acting Head Coach Lachlan Armstrong had trained with the senior A-League side the morning of the game.
However, despite these odds stacked against them, City almost found themselves up after less than a minute’s play following kick-off after Sam Morrison, whose transition from the U20s to senior football has been one of the bright spots of the 2018 season, forced a turnover deep in Langwarrin’s half.
In behind the defence and one-on-one with Langwarrin keeper Robert Acs, Morrison was forced out wide by the charging goalkeeper; his shot eventually blocked after Acs did a fine job of closing down any angles to goal.
Langwarrin collected themselves and created some half chances of their own following the early scare – Mehdi Sarwari and John Kuol both threatening – before City responded after some fantastic work from Mitch Graham set up Yaya Dukuly for a shot in the 16th minute, Acs just able to turn the youngsters shot around the near post for a corner.
The chances coming thick and fast now, Langwarrin had their best chance of the game just two minutes later.
In behind the City defence, striker Kuol rounded City goalkeeper Daniel Smith, who despite a few nervy moments was relentless in his efforts to charge down Langwarrin attackers all day.
Side footing an effort goalward, Kuol must have thought he’d done enough to put his side ahead 1-0 only to look up and see that 14-year-old Idrus Abdulahi had sprinted back to the goal line and had blocked his shot.
Smith was more successful with his next effort at charging down Kuol, preventing a certain goal when he smothered the Langwarrin attacker in a one-on-one situation ten minutes later.
Up the other end, Acs would produce another super save to deny Yusuf Ahmed a goal a minute later as the game’s momentum shifted: City dictating the ebbs and flows of the game as Langwarrin often went minutes at a time without touching the ball in the first half’s final fifteen minutes.
The contest slowly moved back towards equilibrium following the second half’s commencement, albeit with City still maintaining a slight ascendency, both sides creating strong chances in the opening phases of the second 45.
Most notable among them was substitute Seb Kis having a long-range free-kick sail over the bar in the 48th minute, Sarwari forcing a top draw reaction save from Smith with a close-range shot in the 53rd minute and Dukuly drawing a top-class diving save from Acs in the 58th minute.
Despite playing an absolute blinder for the visitors, Acs nonetheless was unable to do anything about City’s effort seven minutes later when Morrison put the hosts up 1-0.
Stepping up to take a free kick awarded close the corner flag deep inside Langwarrin’s half, Kis swung a perfect cross to the top of the six-yard box.
Dashing towards it, Morrison rose highest among the assembled stack of bodies and directed a powerful header just inside the near post, giving Acs no chance.
Despite the introduction of Joeys Kis, Jordy Bos and Josh Varga as second-half substitutes, the toll of the long season and intense training with the senior A-League side began to show on the bodies of the City players as the second half wound down; Langwarrin forcing their way back into the game and creating a number of excellent chances that only City’s desperate defending was able to keep out.
An 87th-minute free kick from Langwarrin would have broken hearts of City’s young side, the ball snaking underneath a jumping wall and changing it’s flight path after a deflection off a Langwarrin attacker if it had not been for a win-preserving save by Smith.
The young goalkeeper recognised the change in the ball’s trajectory and adjusting his legs mid-dive to deflect the ball outward, Langwarrin called for offside as they looked to follow the ball in.
Earlier in the day, Peter Kratky’s U20 side had gotten the day off to a winning start for City, erasing a 1-0 halftime deficit to defeat the U20s of Langwarrin 2-1.
That win ensured that City finished in the second position on the NPL2 Eastern Conference U20 table at season’s end, three points adrift of champions Eastern Lions