It may have required some late drama, but Melbourne City booked a ticket to the Australia Cup final four with a come-from-behind win over MetroStars in Adelaide on Wednesday night.
A slow-starting City went behind in the first half but was able to draw level in the 84th minute through a Curtis Good header.
It was then down to Tolgay Arslan in stoppage time, who, despite seeing his initial penalty saved, made no mistake with the follow-up to secure the win.
A mixture of youth and experience took to the pitch from the opening whistle, as Head Coach Rado Vidosic likely had an eye to next week’s AFC Champions League opener upon selecting his XI.
Captain Jamie Maclaren remained in Melbourne due to the imminent birth of his first child, while Nuno Reis and Scott Galloway also didn’t make the trip to Adelaide but are expected to be fit next week.
18-year-old striker Max Caputo made his first competitive senior start, while a host of exciting Academy products were named amongst the substitutes.
Starting XI: 1. Jamie YOUNG (C), 18. Jordon HALL, 22. Curtis GOOD, 26. Samuel SOUPRAYEN, 16. Aziz BEHICH, 6. Steven UGARKOVIC, 8. Hamza SAKHI, 10. Tolgay ARSLAN, 44. Marin JAKOLIS, 21. Alessandro LOPANE, 37. Max CAPUTO.
Substitutes: 40. James NIEUWENHUIZEN (GK), 17. Terry ANTONIS, 35. Zane SCHREIBER, 45. Harry POLITIDIS, 46. Ben MAZZEO, 50. Medin MEMETI, 53. Harry SHILLINGTON.
It was a slow start from City, with the hosting MetroStars side looking to attack early and put plenty of pressure on the defence.
These early forays were seen off though, and some strong work in the middle of the park from Hamza Sakhi and Arslan allowed City to control the possession.
Jamie Young made a good initial save in the 26th minute from a MetroStars counterattack, but there was little he could do to keep out Andre Ayoubi’s blistering follow-up strike.
Trailing 1-0 but still with plenty of time on the clock, City continued to keep majority of the possession as we looked to find a way to break through the MetroStars stingy defence.
Young was called into action in the 64th minute and stood up to the challenge, using his left boot to stop what seemed to be a certain goal for the hosts.
After being kept in the game thanks to that save, the equaliser would eventually come for City 20 minutes later.
Sakhi’s perfectly weighted ball following a set-piece found substitute Terry Antonis on the left, who did equally as well to hook the ball into the box where Curtis Good was waiting to head into the back of the net.
A pair of Academy young guns, 18-year-old fullback Harry Shillington and 16-year-old striker Medin Memeti, were introduced in stoppage time for their senior debuts.
Shillington had an immediate impact, bombing into the penalty area in search of an Alessandro Lopane pass, before being brought down and seeing the referee point to the spot.
Already with three Australia Cup goals to his name – including two penalties – up stepped Arslan for a chance at the stoppage-time winner.
MetroStars goalkeeper Isaac Carmody did well to get down low to his right to make the save initially, but the City midfielder made no mistake in calmly tucking home the rebound to secure his team a place in the Semi Finals.
Vidosic’s men have quickly shifted focus to Wednesday’s AFC Champions League opener, set to host Japanese side, Ventforet Kofu at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
We’ll find out our Australia Cup Semi Final opponents on Sunday night following the competition of the last Quarter Final.
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