In what was perhaps the most entertaining game of the Y-League season, Melbourne City’s Youth have booked their place in the 2017/18 Y-League Grand Final with a come from behind 4-3 over Adelaide United on Monday.
Despite a smothering press from the Reds, first half goals to Braedyn Crowley and Ramy Najjarine saw City head into the break up a goal, with Carlo Armiento scoring for the visitors.
Two second half penalties from Charlie Devereaux would secure Adelaide the lead however, and made it appear as though City would suffer their first defeat of the season.
A late own goal and a wonder strike by Dylan Pierias would rescue City though, who would notch up their fifth win in six matches, maintain their unbeaten run and ensure that they could not be caught atop the Y-League’s Group A.
Knowing that a win would secure City a berth in the Y-League Grand Final, Head of Academy Joe Palatsides made three changes to the side that defeated the Brisbane Roar last week.
Captain Denis Genreau returned to the Starting XI in his familiar central midfield role, whilst Yasin Nur, unused in the Brisbane clash, returned to Starting XI as the left back.
Senior listed striker and City’s leading scorer this Y-League this campaign Crowley also returned to the starting XI, the 21-year-old looking to add some firepower to City’s Grand Final pursuit.
It was a bright opening to the contest at the City Football Academy, with both sides making an energetic start in perfect, 25-degree conditions in Bundoora.
And the first clear chance of the game would fall to City in only the fourth minute of the contest, winger Lucas Derrick seizing on the ball and powering down the right towards the byline before cutting the ball back into Ramy Najjarine in the penalty area.
Najjarine was unable to get any power on his shot however, with the ball bobbling harmlessly off his boot and being promptly cleared by the Reds defence.
The Reds would create an even better chance a minute later, when strikers Devereux and Armiento would produce some sublime passing back and forth between each other as they advanced up the field before Devereux eventually played Armiento through one-on-one with City goalkeeper James Delianov.
The Reds number 10 launched a low shot that almost nutmegged the City shotstopper, however Delianov got enough contact on the ball to keep the contest 0-0.
That state of parity was not to last however, when just a minute later the high energy opening produced a goal when Braedyn Crowley opened the scoring for the hosts.
The move started when Derrick broke once again down the right wing, playing a series of back-and-forth passes between himself and Metcalfe to get the ball upfield.
Eventually receiving the ball on the edge of the area, Metcalfe would then square the ball to the top of the six-yard-box and a waiting Crowley, who would poke the ball home and give City the early lead.
City would go close to adding a second six minutes later in the 12th, when Najjarine beat two Reds defenders as he broke down the left before playing a low cross into the box.
The ball beat a sliding Crowley at the top of the six-yard-box, but continued on to Derrick on the far post who struck it, only to be denied by fantastic goalkeeping by the Reds' Cameron Cook.
As the game began to settle into a rhythm, the tactics that Adelaide United had adopted for the contest became readily evident, with the Reds playing a suffocatingly high line that gave a City side that likes to play the ball out from the back no time to breath.
It’s effectiveness was also readily evident, with a normally steadfast City defence looking increasingly flustered under the constant heat of the Reds, who despite being down 1-0 bossed much of the early play – albeit without creating many clear-cut scoring chances - in the game’s opening 15 minutes.
They would instead have to wait until the 26th minute of the contest to create their next clear goalscoring opportunity, and they would not waste it.
Continuing to harass the City defence, the Reds would win the ball deep in City’s half and work the ball to Armiento.
The Reds striker would turn goalward and launch a thunderbolt from outside the box that beat a diving Delianov into the top corner and restore the game to parity.
The goal was in no small part thanks to that intense press that was being employed, with the intensity of the Reds efforts showing no signs of subsiding as the game approached the 30 minute mark.
City, having the game well and truly taken to them in the opening stanza, would turn that press to their advantage in the 30th minute though, with central defender Lucas Portelli and Najjarine combining well to restore City’s lead.
Looking upfield from the middle of his own half and the ball at his feet, Portelli would spy Najjarine running hard to get in behind the Reds defence.
With pinpoint accuracy, the big centre back launched a long ball over the top for his winger to run onto that Najjarine would in turn collect in stride as he made his way up the right.
Cutting back inside, Najjarine would briefly look up to search for a target to pass to, before making the decision to do it himself and coolly slotting the ball past Cook.
Portelli would then prove his worth as a defender almost immediately after the restart from the goal, when City committed a soft turnover deep in their own half.
With Armiento advancing clean through on goal, Portelli would sprint back with the United striker and launched a desperate sliding tackle.
Whilst not dispossessing Armiento, Portelli did get a foot on the ball with his challenge, doing enough to upset the strikers rhythm so that his shot was comfortably saved by Delianov.
Two minutes later Armiento would have another chance to put the Reds ahead, getting on the end of a move the Reds started once again by intercepting a City ball in their own half, but blasting wide of the goals.
Despite this pressure, City should have gone have gone ahead in the 41st minute when Najjarine had a gilt-edged chance to add to his earlier goal.
Josh Cavallo, collecting the ball on the halfway line, did brilliantly to beat three Reds defenders as he ran down the left wing before squaring the ball to Crowley in the penalty area.
Crowley's touch took him past the goalkeeper, but that touch also put him on an angle where he was unable to shoot.
He instead squared the ball to Najjarine; who rather than shooting first time into an open goal took a touch-too-many, giving the Reds enough time to get men back and block his eventual shot.
The Reds would have a half chance to score in the 45th minute when Ninko Beric would launch an under powered half volley towards goal after a ball deflected to him in the penalty area, but it was not to be as the game went into the half with City leading 2-1.
That scoreline was not long for this world however, when almost immediately after the restart the Reds were awarded a penalty.
Controlling the ball just inside the area on the right, the Reds' Ryan Yates was brought down City captain Genreau and referee Andrew Miemarakis pointed to the spot.
Reds captain Devereux stepped up to take it and proceeded to send Delianov the wrong way as he blasted it into the top right corner and made the game 2-2.
The games was tied up, but as the Reds tired they were unable to maintain their ferocious pressure, and City began to find themselves with a half a step of pace where there previously was none against the Reds press.
It would enable City to create a number of chances to take back the lead, Connor Metcalfe blasting over in the 64th minute and Najjarine having a point blank effort saved by Cook in the 67th amongst them.
Disaster would strike for City however, when in the 69th minute Anthony Lesiotis, who had been subbed on late in the first half for an injured Mitchell Graham, brought down Reds substitute Pacifique Niyongabire in the area for a second Adelaide penalty.
Devereux would convert again, this time putting the ball down the middle as Delianov dived right, and City found themselves staring down the barrel of a first Y-League defeat of the season.
City may have been forgiven for praying for divine intervention - and it just may have been provided seven minutes later when in the 76th minute an own goal brought them back to parity.
The move started with Portelli again, as he launched a long ball forward that found substitute Zach Bates on the wing.
Bates would beat a Reds defender before playing in a skidding low cross that Cook could only spill back into his own net.
That lifeline provided, City would press on to cement the comeback and a berth in the Y-League grand final and in the 81st minute they would get it, finding a winner thanks to some absolute magic from Dylan Pierias.
Collecting the just on the half way line, the right back would run right at the Adelaide defenders and beat three in exceptionally tight quarters before tapping the ball to second half substitute Gianluca Iannucci and continuing his run.
Recognising that the chance was on, Iannucci deftly scooped the ball first time over the assembled Reds defenders into Pierias’ path, Pierias would make no mistake as he got his second goal in two games and booked City’s place in the Y-League Grand Final.
Their spot in the Y-League Grand Final secured, City will next week follow in the footsteps of City’s senior side and head West to face the Perth Glory, with the two sides set to meet at Dorrien Gardens in Round 8 of the Y-League season.