Melbourne City FC has suffered a first defeat of the new NPL3 campaign, going down 2-1 away to Western United on Sunday afternoon.
The match got off to an enthralling start but was turned on its head by a City red card early in the second half that saw United open the scoring not long after through Sabit Ngor. An inspired City side netted an equaliser through Max Caputo from the spot and looked like securing a point against all odds, but a second red card late on derailed their momentum and saw the home side net a stoppage-time winner as they capitalised on their two-man advantage.
John Maisano named his first changes of the season, welcoming back his A-League stars Raphael Borges Rodrigues and Kerrin Stokes to the starting lineup. Jordi Valadon also got his first start of the season, with that trio replacing Arion Sulemani, Domenic Folino and Matthew Grimaldi respectively. Harry Politidis took the captain’s armband in Grimaldi’s stead.
The home side started brightly with a pair of good chances in the 5th minute. Central defender Ben Collins found space at the back post from a set-piece but was off-target with his header, before Ngor Sabit forced a good reflex save from Ahmad Taleb less than 30 seconds later.
Luke Oresti came close to opening the scoring for a third consecutive week when he rifled an effort on goal in the 14th, forcing a strong save from Charlie Emery to palm the ball over for a City corner.
Jordi Valadon was next to test Western’s #1, striking an effort from the edge of the area that sizzled straight into Emery’s welcoming arms.
Noah Botic’s 30th-minute one-on-one chance was the best sight on goal for either team to that point of the game, with the forward played through on goal and able to clip a ball over the oncoming Taleb, but the shot trailed narrowly wide of the upright.
The City shot-stopper came up big for his side in the 39th when he was able to pull off an off-balance save to deny Jake Najdovski’s well-struck effort inside the box. This effort was followed not long after by Botic’s close-range header from a corner which he fortunately scuffed off target.
City’s fortunes turned in the 52nd minute when Jordan Dellidis’ second yellow card offence of the match saw him earn an early exit, penalised for a rash challenge as he attempted to break up a flowing United move through midfield.
The visitors nearly found an unlikely opener in the 60th minute when Politidis forced a turnover high up the pitch and was able to work a cutback to Caputo, who fired over the bar under defensive pressure.
The 10-man City’s defiance continued in the 65th when Grimaldi, who had replaced Raphael at half-time, got spectators off their feet with his strike from the edge of the area that flashed narrowly wide of the mark.
Oresti came close again in the 70th when he was teed up for a strike from outside the box by Politidis, with the midfielder forcing a good save from Emery diving across to his left.
For all their efforts, the City resistance was finally broken in the 71st when the team’s multiple passed up opportunities to clear culminated in a chance for Ngor, who struck across Taleb into the top right corner.
United’s lead was nearly doubled two minutes later when Sebastian Lo Monaco was played through on goal but was denied brilliantly by Taleb was got a strong palm to the shot which looked bound to sneak through the gap at the near post.
The boys’ spirit wouldn’t be broken though and they finally got their reward in the 76th minute from the penalty spot. A mesmerising run into the box from Politidis culminated in the winger being brought down, allowing Caputo to step up and convert the penalty, equalising for his side.
Caputo was then incredibly unfortunate to be sent off 10 minutes later, shown a second yellow card for what looked to have been an overexaggerated foul on a United defender as he looked to win the ball high up the pitch.
An inspiring defensive performance from the visitors ensued over the remainder of the contest, with some crucial saves, goal-line clearances and last ditch tackles nearly seeing the City boys come away with what would have been a well-earned point. Instead, disaster struck as United found a winner deep into stoppage time to secure all three points.
The loss sees City remain on four points from its opening three fixtures. The team will now look to reignite its momentum with a positive result next Sunday afternoon when it hosts Ballarat City.
Image Credit: Captured By Kas