Melbourne City FC came close to producing a sensational comeback, falling to a valiant 4-3 defeat against Western Sydney Wanderers in a frantic top-of-the-table clash at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night
In an enthralling, end to end contest between the leading two sides in the competition, City appeared to be staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat when Western Sydney roared to a 3-0 lead, after Mark Bridge added a second half brace to Mitch Nichols' opener.
But in a role reversal of the Round 14 clash in Melbourne, City fought its way back into the contest in incredible fashion, with two stunning goals in the space of a minute to Harry Novillo and Bruno Fornaroli giving John van’t Schip’s side hope of completing a miraculous turnaround.
The Wanderers would eventually hold their nerve when substitute Brendon Santalab found the back of the net two minutes from time, while towering midfielder Erik Paartalu pulled a goal back in stoppage time to cap off a thrilling contest.
With both sides fighting it out for top spot on the Hyundai A-League table, this was a game that was played at a ferocious pace, with both sides exchanging a flurry of goalscoring opportunities and fouls during an electric first half.
City were dealt a huge blow inside the opening minutes when skipper Patrick Kisnorbo limped off with a suspected calf injury, but managed to engineer the first opportunity of the match through Aaron Mooy, who dragged an effort wide of the goal after finding space outside the area.
Buoyed by an electric home crowd, Western Sydney imposed themselves on the contest in the early stages of the first-half, as City struggled to come to terms with the home side’s persistent defensive press.
Thomas Sorensen had to be alert to smother a chested effort from Dario Vidosic as Western Sydney turned the screws in the final third, but it was the dangerous combination of Fornaroli and Novillo which nearly fired City into an early lead.
A delightful move began with a neat pass from Anthony Caceres into the feet of Fornaroli, who played a neat one two with strike partner Novillo before toe poking an effort agonisingly wide of the post.
Sorensen had to dive low to deal with another effort from Vidosic immediately at the other end, while Wanderers stopper Andrew Redmayne stood tall for the home side, twice racing off his line quickly to clear the ball ahead of Novillo and then Mooy.
It was those missed opportunities in front of goal which proved to be costly, as the Wanderers broke the deadlock in the 31st minute. A neat through ball from Mark Bridge released Mitch Nichols through on goal, who showed a cool head to slide the ball past Sorensen at the far post.
Paartalu came close to pulling a goal back on the stroke of half-time when he rose high to meet a curling free-kick from Aaron Mooy, but his header cannoned off the chest of a beaten Redmayne as the Wanderers entered the break with the advantage.
The Wanderers cranked up the pressure in the second half and appeared to be cruising to all three points, putting City to the sword with a devastating passage of attacking football.
Bridge doubled the Wanderers’ advantage on the hour mark, dropping off the defence to latch on to Nichols' square pass before firing an unstoppable effort past Sorensen into the top corner. When the striker completed his quick-fire double only seven minutes later, City looked down and out.
But it was midfield general Aaron Mooy who was the catalyst for a rousing City comeback. A perfectly weighted pass from the Socceroos midfielder isolated Novillo one-on-one with Topor-Stanley, who jinked past the defender before lashing a stinging drive past Redmayne to make it 3-1 in the 76th minute.
Mooy was at it again only seconds later, this time finding the feet of Fornaroli who despite the close attention of Scott Neville and Alberto, picked his spot and curled a sensational effort into the top corner to give City a sniff of hope.
Melbourne continued to push forward in droves – despite the dismissal of Anthony Caceres to a second yellow card – but were dealt a killer blow only two minutes from time when Santalab turned home Romeo Castelen’s cut-back to make it 4-2.
Paartalu netted a consolation goal in the third minute of injury time, handing Mooy his third assist of the night and capping off a frenetic seven goal thriller.
Hyundai A-League Round 17
Friday, 29 January 2016
Western Sydney Wanderers 4 (Mitch NICHOLS 32’ Mark BRIDGE 60’, 67’, Brendon SANTALAB 88’)
Melbourne City FC 3 (Harry NOVILLO 76’, Bruno FORNAROLI 78’, Erik PAARTALU 90+3’)
Venue: Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta
Referee: Shaun Evans
Melbourne City FC line-up: 1. Thomas SORENSEN (GK), 5. Ivan FRANJIC (Paulo RETRE 70’), 6. Erik PAARTALU, 8. Aaron MOOY, 9. Harry NOVILLO, 11. Michael ZULLO (Ben GARUCCIO 69’), 23. Bruno FORNAROLI, 24. Patrick KISNORBO (C) (Jack CLISBY 4’), 25. Jacob MELLING, 29. Anthony CACERES, 33. Osama MALIK
Substitutes not used: 20. Dean BOUZANIS (GK), 27. Nick FITZGERALD.
Yellow cards: Clisby 57’, Caceres 65’, 85’
Red cards: Caceres 85’
Western Sydney Wanderers line-up: 20. Andrew REDMAYNE (GK), 3. Scott JAMIESON, 4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (C), 6. Mitch NICHOLS, 8. DIMAS, 10. Dario VIDOSIC, 12. Scott NEVILLE, 16. Jaushua SOTIRIO (Romeo CASTELEN 75’), 17. ALBERTO, 18. ANDREU (Kearyn BACCUS 71’), 19. Mark BRIDGE,
Substitutes not used: 30. Liam REDDY, 7. Romeo CASTELEN, 11. Brendon SANTALAB, 21. Jacob PEPPER.
Yellow cards: Andreu 28’, 31’ Bridge
Red cards: nil