Melbourne City’s youth let a golden opportunity to seize control of their own destiny in the Y-League’s Conference A slip on Sunday: a 3-3 draw with Perth Glory leaving the squad relying on other results to go their way if they are to reach another Y-League Grand Final.
Brisbane Roar’s loss to Adelaide United on Saturday evening had given City a golden chance to seize control of Conference A’s ladder – three points enough to send them two clear with one game left to play.
And, despite a second-half fadeout, it initially appeared that City had done enough to secure the vital three points at C.B Smith Reserve.
That was until a 90th-minute dagger from Glory’s Kristian Popovic broke City’s hearts.
Popovic’s decisive late header was the only goal of the game’s second stanza, the other five coming in a barnstorming 20-minute patch of the first half.
City’s goals were provided through a brace from Moudi Najjar and a solo effort from Ramy Najjarine and Glory’s goals coming from a Daniel Stynes’ penalty and strike from Ethan Brooks.
With Roar’s goal difference clearly superior to City’s – the Roar sit on +9 while City possess a +4 figure – Head Coach Joe Palatsides’ side will be relying on last-placed Melbourne Victory to do them a favour when they meet Roar on Friday night, before going out and bettering their rival's result against Adelaide the following night.
City welcomed back a bevy of talent for the important fixture, with Young Socceroos Najjarine, Najjar, Connor Metcalfe, Dylan Pierias and Josh Cavallo all taking their place in the team’s starting XI.
Jordy Bos, Luke Duzel and Gianluca Iannucci made way for the returning Najjarine, Metcalfe and Pierias, with Duzel and Iannucci available off the bench.
City took the lead just 14 minutes into Sunday afternoon’s fixture after Najjar got on the end of a sublime, backheeled through ball from Metcalfe and slid the ball past Glory goalkeeper Nicholas Speca to make it 1-0.
Unfortunately for City, that lead proved fleeting as just seconds later Glory marched up the other end and won a penalty that was coolly converted by Stynes.
Seizing the momentum, Glory then took the lead five minutes later after Stynes chipped a ball into empty space inside the City penalty for Brooks to run onto.
Collecting the ball at the byline, Brooks cut back inside before hammering an effort past City goalkeeper Ahmad Taleb to make it 2-1.
Though it lasted longer than City’s initial one had, Glory’s lead wasn’t long for this world either, with City restoring the game’s equilibrium in the 20th minute when Najjarine struck.
Receiving a pass from Metcalfe on the left-hand side of Glory’s penalty area, the Young Socceroos winger appeared to have initially missed his window to score when he failed to pull the trigger.
Proving that he was not be discounted, however, Najjarine was still somehow able to dance away from a converging Glory defence and fire off a shot on target. Though Speca was able to get a hand on the ball the shot proved to be too well hit to keep out as the ball trickled over the line to make it 2-2.
Najjar then got back into the action in the 31st minute, killing a pass drilled to him inside the Glory area from Cavallo stone dead before turning on a dime and blasting a half-volleyed effort into the back of the net to make it 3-2.
Looking to continue their momentum, City would press ahead and create a series of further chances as the half wore down only to lack that final, killer touch.
Najjar sprung Colakovski with a ball down the right in the 36th minute to allow the winger to send a dangerous early cross into the back post but Glory was just able to scramble the ball away before Najjarine could reach it.
120 seconds later it was Najjarine that was sending a dangerous ball into the Glory area only to watch as the ball trickled behind Najjar before being cleared.
Seconds before the halftime whistle Pierias tired his luck with a long-range effort that, although dipping dangerously after seemingly dying in mid-air, just sailed over the bar for a goal kick.
Disappointingly for City, this strong finish to the first half was unable to be continued over into the second.
Those wearing sky blue clearly looked to have gone down a gear – or several – as the second half progressed as a resurgent Glory took advantage of the opening to force their way into the contest.
Defender Lucas Portelli had a rare chance for City when he looped a curling free kick over an assembled Glory wall in the 59th minute but just couldn’t get it to dip low enough to sneak into the top corner of the net.
Perth responded in the 63rd minute through highly rated prospect Jacob Italiano, who got to the City byline in order to cut the ball back to a dangerous – but empty – area atop the City penalty area.
With City appearing increasingly uncertain at the back, Perth heaped the pressure on by winning a series of late corners.
Substitute Cameron Murray almost brought Glory level when he headed over at the back post in the 88th minute before Popovic ultimately punished City when he headed past substitute goalkeeper Majak Mawith to make it 3-3.
City will next week jet off to the City of Churches to take on Adelaide United on Friday afternoon.
With Brisbane’s game with Victory set to kick-off half an hour before that contest, City will know if they have made yet another Y-League grand final by the end of those 90 minutes against the Reds.