Melbourne City Youth’s regular season concluded with a whimper on Saturday evening, going down 2-1 to the Melbourne Victory at Epping Stadium.
In a stark reversal from the season’s first fixture that saw City defeat the Victory 9-2, early goals to Birkan Kirdar and Pierce Waring were enough to propel the Victory past City, with Ramy Najjarine’s 56th minute strike not enough to spark City to a comeback effort.
It was a truly a game of two halves, with a very poor first half performance from City making way for a second half that City had the best of without ever really dominating.
City Head Coach and Head of Academy Joe Palatsides continued to tinker with his side in the lead into the Y-League Grand Final, making four changes to the side that were defeated by the Perth Glory in Western Australia last week.
Josh Cavallo, Mitch Graham and Mark Karlic all returned to the starting XI, with Lucas Portelli, Yasin Nur and Anthony Lesiotis making way for the three.
There was also a change in goal for City, with A-League veteran Eugene Galekovic injecting some veteran leadership into the side as he received some much-needed game time in place of Yaren Sozer.
The second Melbourne Derby of the Y-League started with a bang, as the Victory announced their intentions and surged forward from the kick-off to almost put themselves ahead after less than a minute of play.
Receiving the ball just outside the penalty area, the Victory’s Joshua Kelic baited in Dylan Pierias before sliding a ball into the newly created behind the right back into the path of Kirdar.
On an angle, Kirdar struck a low shot towards the bottom corner, only to be denied by some fine goalkeeping as Galekovic got down low to his right to deny the Victory a perfect start.
After nine minutes however, the Victory would get the breakthrough, capitalizing on a calamitous mistake by City centre back Aiden Farquhar to grab the lead.
On the ball with time in his own backline, Farquhar would launch an all too casual ball through the centre of the field that Kirdar win nip in front of, proceeding to take off running with towards the City goal.
Kirdar would get to the edge of the City area before launching a powerful shot that would beat Galekovic to his right and put the Victory up 1-0.
Three minutes later it was two, when Kirdar would turn from goal scorer to goal creator.
Receiving the ball with time at an acute angle inside the City penalty area, Kirdar would get his head up and weave a perfectly weighted pass through a crowd of City bodies back towards Waring at the top of the area.
Waring would make no mistake with the chance, blasting his shot into the top corner and doubling the Victory’s early advantage.
It was a just reward for the Victory’s first half dominance, with Gareth Naven’s side applying such intense pressure that rendered City unable to get into any sort of rhythm.
Further chances to Waring in the 17th and 26th minutes stood in stark contrast with a City side that was struggling to create any positive forward movement.
Too often City players were caught out of position, overhit passes, were caught napping in tracking back or were too easily disposed by a Victory side that had clearly seized control of the contest.
Exasperating their problems going forward, senior Victory defender James Donachie put in a strong performance for the Vuck, the 24-year-old putting in a fine first half performance as he made his return to football from a quadriceps tear.
If it were not for the presence of Galekovic in the City goals, the early deficit could have been even greater, the 36-year-old veteran producing a number of key saves to keep City in the game.
This was exemplified in the 32nd minute, when Galekovic produced a save for the ages to deny Waring his second of the contest.
A sloppy pass from Farquhar was again intercepted by the Victory inside City’s own half, this time by Thiel Iradukunda.
The Victory central midfielder would play the ball to Kirdar, who in turn played a magnificent through ball behind the City defence and put it on a platter for an unmarked Waring six yards out from the City goal.
The Victory number 9 shot low and to the left, only for Galekovic to stick a big leg out and force the ball out for a corner.
It was not until late in the half that City would be able to muster a few real chances on goal; Denis Genreau almost capitalizing on a turnover by Cameron McGlip in the Victory backline only to have his shot deflected over the bar and Najjarine just unable to get his head to a Lucas Derrick cross in first half injury time.
Despite these late chances, it was the Victory that were clearly on top going into the halftime break; their pressure and sharpness a cut above a City outfit that was playing nothing like the side that had demolished the Victory 9-2 in the two sides first encounter.
It was a performance that the players were themselves clearly not pleased with, congregating in a huddle out on the field before they entered the rooms for Palatsides’ half time briefing.
Whatever was said in those two conversations, it appeared to have buoyed City, with the team in City Blue that started the second looking a different side from the group that had delivered an insipid first half performance.
Half time substitute Luke Duzel would set tone early for the second half, the new arrival going into the referee's book after less than 60 seconds after a heavy challenge on the left wing.
Despite the foul, it heralded the arrival of a more aggressive City, and the 16-year-old Duzel, who was making his Y-League debut in the contest, would go on to acquit himself well in his first appearance in a City shirt.
City would get their first chance of the second half when in the 49th minute Derrick found space to run on the left.
Beating three Victory defenders, the pacey winger would then cut back inside and launch a shot that Hatzikourtis in the Victory goal was forced to get down low to dig out.
Hatzikourtis could do nothing in the 55th minute however, when City made the breakthrough to make it 2-1.
Breaking quickly, City would work the ball down the left, with Derrick launching a powerful cross into the area.
The ball would initially clear everyone, until it finally met a waiting Najjarine at the back post. The City scholarship player would make no mistake, turning the ball in and reducing City’s deficit to one.
Further positive signs for City followed, with Najjarine going close again in the 61st minute and Dylan Pierias launching a long-range effort that floated just over the bar in the 67th minute.
It was clear that City had stepped up a gear from the poor first half, with their play showing few of the maladies that had hampered them in the games opening stanza.
Whilst their struggles in no way came close to those of City’s in the first, it was now the Victory that found themselves unable to create any sustained forward pressure, they themselves making several simple mistakes against newfound City pressure.
Indeed, the Victory would only produce one clear goalscoring opportunity in the second half – albeit one that they should have scored from.
Collecting the ball from Waring around 35 yards from goal, Josh Hope would run right at the City defence; beating three City defenders before sliding the ball in front Nuh Sehavdic with only Galekovic to beat on the edge of the area.
Galekovic would once again prove his worth in goals however, producing his second world class save of the match to deny Sehavdic.
As the game entered its final stages City pressed hard to reward their goalkeeper for his outstanding work, but were unable to mount any meaningful chances against the Victory goal.
Their effort to throw men forward in the last ten minutes backfired indeed seemed to only backfire, as the Victory took advantage of a numerical advantage in the midfield to wrest control in transition back away from City.
With the Victory able to bog down and kill off time, City’s improved second half came to nought, as the Victory consigned them to their second straight defeat.
With a bye week in the season’s final week, City’s regular season concluded with this weeks loss to the game.
Palatsides’ and his coaching staff’s thoughts now turning to the Y-League Grand Final, with City, barring a 19-goal win to the Melbourne Victory in their final match of the season, set to make their second straight trip to the season’s decider.