NPL Report: City 2-2 Box Hill

Melbourne City FC was held to a 2-2 draw in its penultimate game of the NPL3 season.

In a Saturday afternoon at Parade College that had everything, City twice trailed before drawing level first through Jordi Valadon, and then again at the death thanks to substitute Lucas Byrns.

Starting XI

Head Coach John Maisano made three changes to his starting XI.

Sebastian Esposito replaced Jordan Dellidis at centre back, while Matthew Sutton made his first appearance in goal for the season and Raphael Borges Rodrigues played his first NPL game since May.

The A-League Men’s duo returned in place of James Nieuwenhuizen and Lucas Byrns who moved to the bench.

Starting XI: 41.Matthew SUTTON (GK), 4. Dom FOLINO, 3. Kerrin STOKES, 27. Sebastian ESPOSITO, 12. Harry POLITIDIS (C), 26. Justin PAOLILLI, 21. Emin DURAKOVIC, 6. Jordi VALADON, 18. Matthew GRIMALDI, 8. Luke ORESTI, 10. Raphael BORGES RODRIGUES.

Substitutes: 40. James NIEUWENHUIZEN (GK), 7. Lucas BYRNS, 23 Harrison SHILLINGTON, 39. Sean GRELLA, 43. Joshua DAMEVSKI, 44. Tobenna OBANI.

What happened?

The contest began with neither team bursting out of the blocks as both looked happy to feel each other out in the early stages.

On his return to the NPL, Borges Rodrigues looked the most dangerous for City. He first played Emin Durakovic through in the 10th minute before teeing up Matthew Grimaldi just moments later, but neither was able to hit the target with their efforts from tight angles.

The rain began to come teeming down midway through the first half, with Sutton also called into action a couple of times in that period, comfortably dealing with a pair of Box Hill strikes.

Thunder and lightning meant the weather got far worse before it got better, resulting in a suspension of play with the teams leaving the pitch in the 40th minute. Luckily, it wasn’t long until the dangerous weather had passed and both teams back out on the pitch to complete the first half.

City was almost caught napping as Box Hill hit the woodwork from its corner that re-started play following the delay.

Following a shortened half-time break, it was the visitors who again looked the most dangerous – albeit not able to muster anything to really test Sutton in goal.

Valadon would have City’s best chance of the contest so far in the 67th minute, played through with an intelligent flick from Matthew Grimaldi, but unfortunately the Box Hill pressure saw the midfielder unable to get enough power on his attempt that was ultimately cleared off the goal line.

Unfortunately for City, it was made to pay just moments later as the visitors took the advantage through a Jack Palazzolo well-taken volley.

Eager to make amends from his earlier effort, Valadon was once again involved as City drew level just two minutes later.

Skipper Harry Politidis took matters into his own hands and played a lovely through ball to split the defence, finding Valadon who took a touch before firing a left foot strike into the back of the net.

The story of the match almost saw a similar chapter written 10 minutes later, with Sebastian Esposito the City defender playing the crucial ball forward. Valadon once again received, this time striking first time on his right boot but seeing his effort well saved.

A long ball over the defence and a scuffed City clearance saw Nikita Varelas take the lead for Box Hill with just minutes remaining, seeming to all but end City’s slim Championship hopes.

Down but not out, City continued to fight right until the final whistle. Substitute Lucas Byrns went on an inspired run through the defence, before playing a 1-2 with Valadon and finishing from close range to draw level once again.

While the boys searched hard for a winner with Sutton even coming up for a late corner in what was a fiery end to the contest, the points were eventually shared.

What’s next?

City will take on Springvale away from home this Saturday in its final fixture of the NPL3 season.

The Championship equation is now clear. City will need to take all three points from that clash, while needing Preston to lose to Box Hill.