Melbourne City’s senior NPL side has returned to its winning ways; downing Springvale White Eagles 3-1 in their previously postponed fixture in NPL Victoria’s NPL2 catch-up round.
Taking the lead in the 22nd minute through A-League capped winger Ramy Najjarine, City was well in control of the contest heading into the main break, before the hosting White Eagles rallied heading into the second 45.
Capitalising on this turnaround, substitute Marko Stanisavljevic fired his side back level when he followed up an initially deflected away shot with a low effort inside the far post in the 68th minute.
Head Coach Petr Kratky’s side, however, was able to rally and ensure that they would be taking all three points back with them to Bundoora when A-League capped striker Moudi Najjar found the back of the net in the 87th minute and Najjarine secured his brace in the 90th minute.
Despite players coming in and out of contention for selection depending on A-League commitments and three players in Vietnam with the Young Socceroos, Kratky was able to welcome back two sizable additions to his starters for Saturday’s contest in the form of Najjar and Najjarine.
Partnered with Yaya Dukuly upfront, the trio lined up ahead of a midfield of Luke Oresti, Emile Peios and Jordi Valadon.
That young midfield was handed the task of screening a backline of Idrus Abdulahi, Mark Karlic, Nick Hatzigeorgiou and Harry Politidis.
Joeys’ goalkeeper Ahmad Taleb started in goal.
City commenced the game brightly when the ever-dangerous Najjarine, who started out on the right side of the front three, cut inside onto his preferred left boot and lashed an effort towards the goal of Springvale keeper Luke Saunders that just flashed wide in the 7th minute.
City followed that with a golden chance in the 16th minute when Oresti looked up and dinked a perfectly placed ball over the top of the White Eagles lines for the running Dukuly – only for the young winger to fall afoul of the linesman’s flag.
The offside flag became a running theme of City’s forays forward throughout Saturday’s contest.
With challenging conditions on a wild and wet day preventing the side in City Blue from playing their preferred game along the ground, they were instead forced to increasingly look to play balls over and in behind the White Eagles defence.
Led by former City prospect Nenad Nikolic, the hosts were able to zero in on the tactics well; frequently springing the offside trap to great effect to snuff out potential attacks.
The flag, though, was unable to help Springvale in the 22nd minute when a ball perfectly played over the top from Hatzigeorgiou found a run of Najjar. Showing great awareness, Najjar then flicked the ball over to his left to Najjarine; who promptly fired home to make it 1-0.
With Springvale predominantly looking to hit on the counter, Jackson Lino and Brady Quinn, in particular, looking dangerous down the left flank, City nonetheless persevered in their attacks and would have been scratching their heads as to how they didn’t grab a second in the 40th minute.
Getting down the touchline from his wing-back position on the right, Abdulahi was able to get his head up and whip a dangerous ball into the penalty area and onto the head of Najjar.
Meeting it with a powerful cranial blast, Najjar seemingly looked a certainty to have made it 2-0 only for Saunders to, somehow, dig the ball out to deny the City attacker.
Perhaps the White Eagles were inspired by the heroics of their goalkeeper, or were on the receiving end of a serious blast from Head Coach Nebojsa Vukosavljevic, at the interval as it was they and not City that seized the initiative following the commencement of the second stanza.
More frequently looking to get the ball to the likes of Quinn, Stefan Cicmil and Gerasimos Kavadas, there was a sense at the Serbian Sports Centre that an equaliser was coming; and the hosts duly provided one in the 68th.
Pouncing on a ball loose in the midfield, White Eagles midfielder Milan Jovanovic burst into a pocket of space inside City’s half before splaying a ball across the field that edged past Abdulahi and nestled at the feet of Stanisavljevic.
Stanisavljevic, who had come on in the 55th minute, then had his initial attempt on goal blocked away by a recovering Abdulahi, but the City defender could do nothing about the follow-up effort that, despite Taleb doing well to get down low to get a hand on, rolled into the back of the net to make it 1-1.
Nevertheless, City’s young squad refused to die and were able to force their way back into the contest as it wore on.
They were rewarded just three minutes from the end of regulation when a ball sliced through the Springvale defence by Najjarine was met by Najjar who, after riding an attempted challenge by Saunders, then fired home to make it 2-1.
It was once again the turn of Najjarine three minutes later when, securing his second goal of the game, he sealed the win for the visitors when he received a cutback from Oresti inside the Springvale penalty area, opened up the angle and blast into the back of the net to make it 3-1.
Earlier in the day, City’s U20 side continued its run towards another NPL2 Eastern Conference U20 title, downing Springvale’s 20s 3-0 in the day’s curtain-raiser.
City will next week engage in a battle with cross-conference foes Whittlesea Ranges FC at Epping Stadium, with senior kick-off set for 3 pm on Saturday.