Melbourne City FC’s finals hopes are well and truly alive after a 0-0 draw with Wellington Phoenix in an enthralling encounter at AAMI Park in City’s final home match of the 2014/15 season.
Sixth-placed City are now four points clear of seventh-placed Brisbane Roar with two rounds to play, although Roar have one match in hand as the season comes to a nail-biting conclusion.
The draw sees City finish its home fixtures with a run of nine matches unbeaten at AAMI Park, stretching back to November 2014, while its most recent unbeaten form extends to five matches (3 wins, 2 draws), heading into the final two rounds.
With a pairing between City – a finals series hopeful, fighting for sixth spot on the ladder with the Roar - and Phoenix – still a title hopeful, two points behind top spot prior to kick-off - there was plenty riding on Sunday afternoon’s Round 25 clash.
And the match didn’t disappoint, despite the 0-0 score line. In one of the most entertaining encounters of the season, City produced a fast, energetic display, which Phoenix matched with a particularly impressive attacking display.
Fittingly in a 0-0 stalemate, both ‘keepers were arguably best on ground with Wellington’s Glen Moss producing a string of important saves to deny City, while Tando Velaphi was called into regular action and crucially saved Nathan Burns’ first-half penalty to secure his eigth clean sheet in 15 appearances.
With a number of changes to City’s back line, City welcomed Connor Chapman and Safuwan Baharudin back into defence as Kew Jaliens pushed out wide and Jack Clisby and Paulo Retre made way, and City started the match in fantastic fashion with a rejigged line-up.
The home side were certainly on top in the early stages of the first stanza, creating a number of key openings and attempts on Wellington’s goal.
However, it was the visitors who should have opened the scoring from the penalty spot, with Velaphi producing a crucial save as Burns direct his spot-kick into the grateful arms of the Melbourne City stopper.
City’s dynamic start to the match was ignited by an early chance as Jonatan Germano pinched the ball off Alex Rodriguez in midfield and then attempted to chip Moss from 40 metres with an audacious effort.
Despite directing the shot on target, Moss back-pedalled and recovered to save, but it was a sign of things to come as Slovenian marquee Robert Koren fired in a rocket on his left boot, forcing Moss to tip over the bar just a minute later.
Returning to the starting line-up after international duty, Singaporean international Safuwan directed a header on target, before Australian marquee Josh Kennedy had an effort blocked at close range.
Melbourne’s in-form midfielder Aaron Mooy then tried his luck with a looping shot which threatened to squeeze into the top corner in the 11th minute; a shot which required the fingertips of the busy Moss to keep it out, although crossing to an unmarked Kennedy at the back post may have been a more sensible option.
But City were nearly stung with a double blow just quarter of an hour into the enthralling encounter, as Safuwan bundled over Louis Fenton in the box, conceding a penalty and earning a yellow card in the process.
Nathan Burns, one of the league’s most prolific strikers with 13 goals this season, aimed his penalty straight down the middle of the goal, where a thankful Velaphi collected the effort easily.
Fenton continued to cause havoc down the right for Ernie Merrick’s side, first squaring to Krishna who contolled and shot wide, before Burns sent Manny Muscat through on goal, only for the defender to shoot straight at Velaphi.
City threatened only from distance following Phoenix’s more controlled spell in the first half, with Mooy cutting inside from the left on two occasions, only to fire high and wide.
Koren almost handed Phoenix the opener, sending a miss-weighted pass-back towards Velaphi which was intercepted by Burns. The Socceroo advanced on goal but a timely interception by Jaliens prevent a clear sight on goal.
The second half commenced with the same tempo as the first as Novillo smacked a free kick wide just two minutes into the second half, before Mooy found the head of Paartalu six minutes later, but the towering central midfielder could only direct his header straight to Moss.
One minute later and Wellington mounted intense pressure on City for a period of 10 minutes, with Kisnorbo forced into a last ditch block to prevent Krishna breaching the back line and then Velaphi was again called into action, tipping another Burns effort over the bar.
Safuwan had a sensational chance in the 70th minute a substitute Paulo Retre recycled a corner and the Singaporean drove a low shot on target in a crowded penalty area, but Moss saved and Wellington’s defence scrambled the ball clear.
Alex Rodriguez then tested Velaphi with a dipping shot which bounced awkwardly in front of the City custodian as the frantic pace of the encounter continued.
Germano then produced another outstanding save from Moss, before CIty nearly clinched it at the death, with Mooy's free kick in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time finding Paartalu, only for his header to clip the top of the cross bar.
City travel to Western Australia to challenge Perth Glory next Sunday and then finish the season with an ANZAC Day clash against Adelaide United.
Hyundai A-League Round 25
Melbourne City FC 0
Wellington Phoenix 0
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: Peter GREEN
Melbourne City FC Line-Up: 20. Tando VELAPHI (GK), 4. Connor CHAPMAN, 5. Erik PAARTALU, 6. Aaron MOOY, 9. Harry NOVILLO (15. David WILLIAMS 58’), 10. Robert KOREN, 13. Jonatan GERMANO, 16. Joshua KENNEDY (25. Jacob MELLING 73'), 24. Patrick KISNORBO, 27. Kew JALIENS (18. Paulo RETRE 62’), 29. Safuwan BAHARUDIN
Substitutes not used: 1. Andrew REDMAYNE (GK), 8. Massimo MURDOCCA, 18. Paulo RETRE, 25. Jacob MELLING
Yellow Cards: Baharudin 15’, Jaliens 43’, Melling 87'
Red Cards: Nil
Wellington Phoenix Line-Up: 1. Glen MOSS (GK), 2. Emmanuel MUSCAT, 4. Roly BONEVACIA (11. Kwabena APPIAH-KUBI 90+3'), 5. Michael BOXALL, 8. Alex RODRIGUEZ (17. Vince LIA 76’), 9. Nathan BURNS, 10. Michael McGLINCHEY 12. Albert RIERA, 16. Louis FENTON, 21. Roy KRISHNA (7. Kenny CUNNINGHAM 73’), 22. Andrew DURANTE
Substitutes not used: 20. Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 19. Thomas DOYLE
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil