Melbourne City FC fell agonisingly short of its second consecutive Y-League title after Joe Palatsides side succumbed to a 3-1 extra time defeat against the Western Sydney Wanderers at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
City appeared to be on its way to a third Y-League championship in four seasons when captain Denis Genreau converted a penalty just before the hour mark, before Wanderers’ striker Lachlan Scott sent the final to extra time with a well-placed finish 30 minutes from time.
Palatsides' young charges fought bravely throughout the afternoon but were eventually undone in extra time when Marc Tokich struck in the 101st minute, before John Roberts put the icing on the cake 10 minutes from time to seal the win for the Wanderers.
Scott and fellow Wanderer attacker Abraham Majok were immense in the performance, turning in an effort that if not for the absolutely superb efforts in the City goal by James Delianov could easily have seen the Wanderers run away with the game in regular time.
Head Coach Joe Palatsides fielded one of his strongest sides of the season for the Grand Final, with 5 Young Socceroos and an Olyroo amongst City’s Starting XI.
Delianov won the competition between himself and Yaren Sozer to start in Goal for the Grand Final, returning to the XI after senior City keeper Eugene Galekovic started City’s regular-season finale.
The gloveman, alongside his back four of Dylan Pierias, Lucas Portelli, Ruon Tongyik and Mark Karlic entrusted by Palatsides with the task of containing a Wanderer attack that scored 29 goals in the Y-League regular season.
Josh Cavallo, Connor Metcalfe, and Genreau took up position in the middle of the field for City, the trio of highly rated prospects slotting in behind an attacking trio of Ramy Najjarine, Zach Bates and Lucas Derrick.
With Foxtel Camera’s and new Socceroos boss Bert van Marwijk in attendance, the Grand Final nerves were plain for both sides in the game’s preliminary stages, both the Wanderers and City tentatively launching attacks at each other as they felt their opposition.
City would settle into the game quicker, Pierias looking lively as he showed a willingness to launch runs down the right from his wingback position and Genreau showing confidence as City’s fulcrum, demonstrating a sense of calmness that served as an anchor for his City compatriots.
A Cavallo free kick from just outside the left corner of the Wanderers penalty area was the first clear chance on goal that City would have, the City midfielder looking to catch Wanderers goalkeeper Nick Suman napping and sneak a ball into the near post – only for Suman to be aware of the danger and collect comfortably.
Two minutes later Genreau would intercept a ball as the Wanderers looked to attack and launch a quick counter attack, playing Bates through just before being fouled.
Bates ran deep into the heart of the Wanderers defence, coming under intense pressure from a furiously backtracking Red and Black backline before ultimately winning a corner.
Up from his centre back position for the resulting set piece, Tongyik would rise highest to meet the corner, only for his header to the top of the six-yard box to be met by only red and black shirts, who promptly cleared the danger.
Finally beginning to settle themselves as the game progressed past the opening 15 minutes, the Wanderers pushed back against City – attackers Scott and Majok looking dangerous every time the Red and Black launched an attack goalward.
Their first clear chance would come in the 22nd minute, a free kick from captain Kostandinos Grozos turned away by Delianov at the far post.
Three minutes later, they would produce an even better chance on goal, Majok doing exceptionally well on the left wing to work the ball to the byline before cutting the ball back towards the top of the penalty area.
The ball would take a deflection before bouncing to Scott, who opened up his body to improve the angle before launching a viscous half volley that Delianov did brilliantly to tip the ball over the bar.
The Wanderers, clearly gaining control of the game as the first half wore on, would go close again in the 33rd and 34th minutes; Mohamed Adam flashing a shot across the face of goal after some clever work to set him up by Scott and Tokich forcing Delianov to dive low and to his right to deny a shot that appeared destined for the bottom corner of the net.
City would seek to counter, Pierias launching a trademark run forward before cutting back and launching an effort goalward in the 35th minute the highlight of their resistance, but were well and truly on the back foot as half time approached.
A 36th minute move by the Wanderers saw Majok and Scott combine excellently before Scott found an ultimately offside Adam in front of an open goal at the top of the area, and the Wanderers would have a goal disallowed in the 46th minute when Adam was adjudged to have impeded Tongyik before Scott headed a corner into the net.
The first half had been well and truly marked by the stellar play of Scott and Majok; the two Wanderer players giving City fits throughout the entire half with their willingness to run at them and ability to play that pinpoint pass at the right time.
For City, Delianov was proving his worth in goal with some fine saves to keep City in it, whilst Pierias and Genreau were providing the best of City’s resistance in the outfield – Pierias’ running and Genreau’s generalship of the midfield causing problems for the Wanderer defence.
The halftime break bring respite from the Wanderer pressure, City would regroup coming into the second half, repulsing a Wanderers attack following the restart before immediately going close twice thanks to chances created by Najjarine and Cavallo.
Indeed, the opening of the second half, much like the opening of the first half, highlighted one of the few periods of the game were City were able to wrest control of proceedings away from the Wanderers, however unlike the first half City soon found themselves on the scoresheet.
The goal came after striker Bates was brought down by two Wanderer defenders as the trio tussled for a loose ball that had been played beyond them into the air, protestations by the Red and Black of offside and no penalty ignored by referee Andrew Meimarakis.
Genreau would step up to take the chance and made no mistake, blasting the ball into the top right corner to give City the 1-0 lead.
The Wanderers would look to respond in the 57th minute, a perfectly timed sliding effort by Portelli denying Majok a chance on goal as the Wanderer attacker burst down the left, however it was in the 63rd when the turning point of the match would occur.
It was at that moment that Wanderer Head Coach would introduce Roberts to the game, the 16-year-old one-time City player replacing Adam as a second half substitute.
The change would have an immediate impact, Roberts combining with first half standouts Majok and Scott to bring the Wanderers level.
Roberts and Majok would attack down the right, working the ball around City defenders before Roberts had enough space to whip a ball into the far post.
A waiting Scott would make no mistake, aiming his shot into the bottom right corner to wrong foot Delianov and bring the game back to parity in the 70th minute.
Back level, the Wanderers began to wrest control of the game from City, much like they had done in the first half, and if not for the heroics of Delianov in the City goal would likely have run away with the game in the 90.
Delianov put in a performance for the ages throughout the final 20 minutes, producing numerous world class saves to deny the Wanderers as they pressed hard to find a regulation winner.
A set of back to back saves in the 78th minute to deny Grozos and Majok and a magnificent leaping save to direct a Jordan Hall ball over the bar were the emphasized Delianov’s rear guard action; City’s goalkeeper putting in a shift that would acquit itself in any senior league in the world – let alone the Y-League.
Truly, City’s defence was unable to do much to relieve the pressure from their goalkeeper as this was going on, with a fresh Roberts and a seemingly rejuvenated Majok and Scott leading a Wanderers side that was truly beginning to dominate the game
Despite this however, City would have a chance to steal the win with two of the last attacks of the half, substitute Marko Delic getting on the end of a through ball from fellow substitute Gianluca Iannucci and hitting the post in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time, and Najjarine flashing a shot wide left of the goals with the last kick of the game.
The two sides collapsed to the turf from exhaustion following the referee’s whistle, knowing an extra 30 minutes of extra time would now be needed to find 2017/18 Champion.
With the pace slowing and skill levels dropping as fatigue seeped into the actions of the players on the pitch, both sides poked and prodded at each other as extra time opened, hoping to force a mistake from their opponents that would give them an opening.
It was City that would crack first, when on 100 minutes it was Scott who once again created a chance that was this time converted by the Wanderers.
Weaving in and out of City defenders in the penalty area, the 20-year-old would somehow find enough space to cut the ball back to a waiting Tokich in the area, who lashed an effort past Delianov to give the Wanderers their first lead of the game in the first period of extra time.
The game would be sealed in the second period of extra time when Roberts, who with a combination of his fresher legs and sheer skill took over the game during extra time, would grab the Wanderers third after disposing City deep in defence before blasting a shot into the bottom corner.
City’s Youth will take a well-deserved week off following the conclusion of the Y-League season, before commencing their NPL2 Eastern Conference campaign in both the U20 and Senior competitions.
Foxtel Y-League Grand Final
Saturday 3 February 2018
Melbourne City FC 1
Western Sydney Wanderers 3
Kick-off time: 2:00pm
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
Referee: Andrew Meimarakis