Melbourne City FC is out of the 2021 FFA Cup competition after going down on penalties against Wellington Phoenix in Wednesday night’s Quarter Final.
With City not having played in 18 days due to match postponements caused by a COVID outbreak within the squad, few people knew what to expect when Patrick Kisnorbo’s Quarter Final starting lineup was unveiled. There were surprise inclusions across the pitch, like Kerrin Stokes partnering Nuno Reis at centre-back and Rostyn Griffiths returning to midfield despite featuring more often as a defender recently.
Manuel Pucciarelli also started in midfield and the front three looked vastly different to what fans have become accustomed to, with Marco Tilio occupying the central striking position and Andrew Nabbout and Jordan Bos on the wings.
The contest endured a slow opening 20 minutes, with City in particular taking its time to achieve a sense of rhythm about its passing game. Wellington had the only chances over this opening period, though none were threatening enough to test Tom Glover.
It took until the 24th minute for City to earn its first notable chance, with Pucciarelli receiving inside the area following a well-worked corner routine and sending his curling effort over the bar.
That began an eventful three-minute period, with City earning a penalty through Marco Tilio in the 25th, with the makeshift striker for the night drawing a foul from Callan Elliott as he drove into the area with the ball. Scott Jamieson stepped up a minute later to take the spot-kick in the hope of repeating his Grand Final heroics, but blazed his effort over the bar.
The chances dried up again over the remainder of the first half, with City often receiving the ball in promising areas around the box but failing to convert this possession into shots on goal, with young keeper Alex Paulsen hardly tested to that point.
Wellington thought they’d taken a late first-half lead when Jaushua Sotirio headed the ball into the back of the net from close range following a 42nd minute set-piece, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
City got the first good chance of the second half 15 minutes in, with Nabbout beating his defender one-on-one and clipping in a cross for Bos, who rose highest to meet the ball but couldn’t work his effort under the bar.
A host of City changes between the 60th and 70th minutes swung momentum in the home side’s favour, with Mathew Leckie, Connor Metcalfe, Aiden O’Neill and Anthony Lesiotis all entering the fray.
Bos had a huge opportunity in the 75th when he was released through on goal by Tilio, but a heavy touch took the ball away from the winger and allowed Paulsen to come out and collect. City’s left winger for the night was then replaced by Colakovski in the 85th minute.
Wellington came close in the 89th minute, with Louis Fenton stretching to poke home a cross from the left but just couldn’t make the decisive connection. After three minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew with the scores still locked at 0-0, mandating an additional 30 minutes of extra time.
With both teams battling fatigue and testing conditions, there were few genuine chances in extra time, with the contest needing to be decided on penalties.
Wellington had the advantage after the first set of penalties, but went on to miss three in a row while Metcalfe and O’Neill converted for City. Jamieson had the chance to seal the victory for City with the fifth kick but missed the mark with his effort. In the end, it was Nicholas Pennington who would win it for the travelling Phoenix side, bundling City out of the FFA Cup.
The boys can do little now but turn their attention to their next Izuzu UTE A-League fixture, when they’ll host Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park in the second game of a massive doubleheader on Sunday afternoon. Click here to get you your tickets!