NPL Wrap: Junior sides continue hot streak

Melbourne City’s NPL senior side was unable to capitalize on a strong opening half on Saturday night, going down 4-1 to high-flying NPL2 West side Altona Magic. The news was better for City’s other academy sides, however, with City's U20, U18 and U15 squads all recording wins.

Coming off a heavy defeat at the hands of rivals Melbourne Victory in the Youth Melbourne Derby last week, Joe Palatsides’ senior NPL side started brightly against Altona; defender Mitch Graham’s through ball in only the games 3rd minute springing Yusuf Ahmed for a one-on-one on goal before the linesman raised his flag.

The Magic would then respond, going close on goal through Troy Ruthven and Melvin Becket; before City would once against be punished by the linesman, with his flag this time canceling out a City goal.

Breaking towards the byline in the game’s 14th minute, Dalibor Markovic swung a low ball into the penalty area, finding an open Yasin Nur.

The youngster, who started on the wing up front with Ahmed and Marko Delic, was able to turn the ball in to cheers from the City sideline, only for the grim realization that he had been adjudged to have been just offside sink in.

The Magic would soon capitalize on City’s misfortune.

Scottish import Jon McShane sounded the warning when he sprang Robert Stambolziev in the 19th minute with a dangerous through ball, Stambolziev blasting just wide, before the Magic went one up two minutes later.

Breaking down the right, the Magic whipped a ball into the penalty area, where McShane was waiting. With a clear height, weight and strength advantage over the incredibly young City defence, McShane was easily able to win enough space to turn the ball in.

City refused to be cowered, however, finding themselves on level terms only nine minutes later after some sublime work by Connor Metcalfe and Seb Kis set up Nur to – fairly – put the ball into the net.

Receiving the ball in the middle of the park as City played out from the back, Metcalfe would deftly flick a pass for Kis to run onto down the right.

The young Kis, who has transitioned to senior NPL football well after last year playing a key part in City’s U20 NPL2 Eastern Conference title, would then get to the byline before slicing a low cross into the are for Nur, who tapped in at the back post to give City the lead.

The Magic would have their chances to retake the lead in the later stages of the first half, James McGarry blazing wide in the 33rd minute and James Delianov producing a world-class reaction save to deny McShane from close range only a minute later.

City also would also have a chance to take a late lead, Delic turning his man brilliantly in the game’s 45th minute before advancing to the edge of the Magic penalty area; only to put his shot wide as the game went into the break locked at one apiece.

City’s impressive opening half, in which one of the youngest lineups in City’s senior NPL history gave as good as they got against a physical Magic outfit, couldn’t last, however, with the second half playing out much the same way as the Derby a week prior had: City fading away as time went by.

City twice cleared balls off their own line in the early stages of the second stanza, before the deadlock was eventually broken on the 57-minute mark when NPL veteran Ben Liftin netted for the Magic.

Pressing hard, the Magic looped a pass to the top of the City area that Delianov and Liftin both engaged in a foot race for. Liftin was able to just get there first, pushing the ball past Delianov and inside the far post to give the Magic the lead.

Five minutes later it would be 3-1, when a three on two situation emerged after Altona forced a turnover off a Kristian Bombaci – who despite the mistake otherwise acquitted himself well in what was his first even senior NPL start – pass deep in City's half. A breaking McShane squared the ball for Becket, who buried his one-on-one chance past Delianov.

The Magic would then add insult to injury in the game’s 80th minute when another cross was whipped into the area for McShane. The big striker headed the ball downwards, into the path of David Trajanoski, who slid the ball in to make it 4-1.

City’s younger academy sides had much better luck over the weekend, with Peter Kratky’s U20s making it four wins from five matches with a hard-fought 1-0 win over the U20s of the Altona Magic in the curtain-raiser to the senior clash.

Sam Morrison, who would make his senior debut off the bench later in the night, grabbed the game’s lone goal, netting in the 14th minute to secure his side the three points.

Josh Varga, who played 45 minutes in the U20s contest, joined Morrison in pulling double duty when he came on as a substitute in the senior contest, also making his senior NPL debut.

Simon Zappia’s U15s made it four wins from four in their Sunday morning match, defeating the U15s of Dandenong City 2-0 at La Trobe University.

It was Daniel Lucente that did the damage for Zappia’s side, grabbing a goal in either half to pace his side en route to victory.

That win means that City sits in the fourth position on the NPL U15 Eastern Conference table, rapidly gaining on the top three of South Melbourne, Bentleigh Greens, and Dandenong Thunder.

The U18s of Davey van ‘t Schip also recorded a 2-0 win in their fixture against Dandenong City, with Darcy Anastovski netting his 11th goal of the season in the 75th minute and Luke Oresti scoring in the 88th minute to secure the win.

The U18s victory, their remarkable ninth win in a row, extends their lead atop the NPL U18 Eastern Conference table ahead of the second-placed FC Bulleen Lions and third-placed Springvale White Eagles.

Photo: Dion Fountas Photography