A ten-man City have twice come from behind, grabbing a late equalizer to secure a point in a hard fought two all draw against an turmoil Richmond side.
City came into the game facing one of the great unknowns in Football – how would Richmond respond to the midweek firing of coach Paul Donnelly and the appointment of former Green Gully caretaker Brian Venega in his place?
City found out immediately that the change seems to have invigorated Richmond, who came out firing and putting City under pressure right from the off.
This challenge was compounded in the third minute when central defender Lucas Portelli, starting in place of City captain Ali Eyigun, was shown a straight red on the first foul of the game.
Portelli was dispossessed in his own half by Richmond captain Rob Taylor and, desperately lunging to win the ball back, brought down the Richmond standout.
Portelli was adjudged to have been the last man in defence by the referee and City found themselves a man down shortly after the kick off.
Speaking after the game, City coach Lachlan Armstrong expressed his doubts about the call: “I didn’t think so at the time [Asked if it was a penalty]. He [The referee] had to decide whether or not our centre back was close enough to get back in time. I thought he was but the referee made the decision that he wasn’t so that’s how he came up with that decision. These things happen I guess”
Taylor popped up for the hosts again only seven minutes later, pouncing on a failed City clearance on the edge of the penalty area and forcing City goalkeeper Yaren Sozer into a spectacular leaping save as he turned the ball out for a corner.
Besides one early chance to City when Nathanial Atkinson – who shifted to left back after Portelli’s red – played through lone striker Marko Delic who could only place his outside footed shot wide, Richmond dominated the opening stages of the match, forcing Sozer into a series of quality saves to keep the scores tied.
Atkinson, who was arguably best on ground for City, said after the game that the shift to left back wasn’t a drastic shock to him:
“The past weeks I’ve played right back when we’ve needed it and I guess I’ve performed there so they just needed me to slot in. It’s good if you’re needed that they can just put you in there. It’s good for the club and obviously you just want to play so I’m happy to play anywhere.”
The pressure on the City defence was immense and despite City beginning to settle and look more dangerous in attack as the half progressed, Richmond were finally able to make the breakthrough through a Taylor goal in the 31st minute.
Pouncing on a failed corner clearance by the City defence on the edge of the box, Taylor had enough time to steady himself before perfectly placing a shot beyond the reach of Sozer in the bottom left corner of the goal.
City were lucky to escape the half with only a one goal deficit to overcome, with Richmond’s Valli Cesnik hitting the bar following an overlap play from Richmond wingback Declan Lambert – who combined well with winger Marcus Dimanche to put City right back Kobe Timms under huge pressure for much of the first half.
Going into the main break City needed a boost – and whatever coach Armstrong said at half time must have provided it as the young City side came out firing in the second period, finding an equalizer only three minutes in.
Delic picked up a loose ball on the halfway line and ran at the Richmond defence, creating space for himself as he broke towards the left of the penalty area.
Beating Richmond centre back Baki Efe, Delic was able to place his shot underneath Richmond goalkeeper Brandon Osipov to level the scores at one.
City were invigorated by the goal, and two minutes later they almost had the lead when Atkinson found Stefan Colakovski on the wing.
Colakovski was able to cut inside and put his left footed shot goal-bound and only a diving effort to from Osipov was able to tip it onto and over the bar and deny the right winger.
However with ten men City’s period of dominance was unsustainable, and Richmond soon fought back and had retaken the lead in the 68th minute.
It was Taylor, who put in a man of the match performance, who latched onto a City error and played a ball through to Cileli, who was able to slide a shot under a charging Sozer to retake the lead for Richmond.
City, down a man and down a goal yet again began to show frustration – chirping at Richmond and the referee until Atkinson was booked for dissent in the 78th minute.
A minute later however, City’s spirits were boosted when Sylaidos and Austin Wong combined beautifully on the left wing to grab City an equalizer.
Sylaidos collected the ball wide on the left before he wriggled past two Richmond defenders before crossing the ball to Wong.
Wong collected himself and launched the ball goal-wards, seeing it take a deflection off a Richmond defender before it slid past Osipov and brought City back level at two all.
Atkinson after the game said the fightbacks were a testament to the work the City squad puts in on the training track.
“Every conditioning session they tell us to work hard! Work hard! and we do it and we do it for eachother and obviously the hard work pays off”
11 minutes after the goal the two all scoreline was how it would end, City getting their third draw in four games and doing enough to ensure that they could not be overhauled by Murray United exiting the round.
After the match Armstong praised the work of Atkinson after his impromptu performance at left back as well as the fight that his City side showed to constantly fight to get back in the game.
“Nathanial’s doing a great job for us in all sorts of different positions and he’s really been a standout for us tonight as a full back and last week he was a standout for us as a 10 and he finished that game as a 7. So he’s certainly very versatile and you saw tonight that he can certainly get himself up and down for 90 minutes”
“I said to the boys just now it’s one of those nights that puts a smile on not only my face but all the staff that put in lots of work and lots of hours with the boys and now they can see all the work that they’re putting in physically it pays dividends on a night. That’s 85 minutes with 10 men that’s a huge effort”
“12 out of the 16 boys we fielded tonight are actually eligible to play under 18 football, so it’s a very very young team as well. They’re getting their chance and they’re stepping up to the plate which is great to see.”
“We’ve got a game up there against Murray United next week so the big games keep coming for the kids.”
Richmond SC 1953 2 (Taylor 31’, Chieli 68’)
Melbourne City 2 (Delic 48’, Wong 79)