Western United put in a fantastic display against Melbourne City in Round 11 of the Isuzu UTE A-League Men on Sunday, but ultimately left AAMI Park with nothing after a 2-1 defeat.
Michael Ruhs gave Western United an early lead with his first league goal for the Club, and the Green and Black continued to create chances going forward throughout the game.
But United was left stunned by two world-class strikes, first from Hamza Sakhi and then from Terry Antonis, that gave City the three points.
There were two changes to John Aloisi’s starting XI as Josh Risdon returned to the side to lead the team out after serving a suspension last week.
Michael Ruhs also came in for his first league start of the season, replacing Riku Danzaki who dropped out with the shoulder injury he sustained a week ago.
It was a fast start at AAMI Park, no doubt aided by the slickness of the pitch with the rain pouring down right up until kick-off.
Both sides were looking to get forward from the outset and City had the first shot in anger as Leo Natel stung the palms of Tom Heward-Belle before Callum Talbot fired wide on the rebound.
But United quickly went up the other end and found a more telling blow, snatching the lead inside the first quarter of an hour.
It was a sumptuous team move as the Green and Black brought the ball methodically from back to front before pouncing in the final third.
Ben Garuccio slid an excellent reverse pass to lead Angus Thurgate into the box and all in one motion, the No.32 controlled, swivelled and clipped a delicate ball across the six-yard box that Ruhs gleefully fired into the roof of the net.
City responded to that by looking to get the ball straight back into their attacking third, but United’s defensive structure was firm and the threat on the break kept City cautious.
The visitors brought most of the attacking impetus heading into half-time but United held firm to carry the lead into the break.
United set about holding the lead and managing the game after the restart but very nearly added to the advantage within the opening minutes of the second period.
Working the ball forward sharply on the counter-attack, Daniel Penha fed Noah Botic in down the left-hand side and the striker’s brilliant cut back found the Brazilian in the box, but he couldn’t make significant contact on his shot as the ball bounced up in front of him.
Penha remained in the play, however, and had a follow-up attempt blocked seemingly by the arm of Scott Galloway. VAR deliberated extensively but waved play on, with a lack of camera angles to determine precisely if it struck the City defender’s hand.
The visitors capitalised on that moment soon after in fine fashion. After Penha headed away a corner, the ball fell straight to Sakhi and despite hitting it while back-peddling, the Moroccan swung his right foot through the ball and sent a spectacular volley arching into the top corner.
That stunner gave City a lift in the game to increase their intensity, an area in which Western United had been beating them in for most of the match.
United sought to bounce back immediately and Penha was behind the play again, squeezing a superb ball into Lachie Wales in the box but Jamie Young made a good save at his near post to deny a goal that would have been a near carbon copy of Wales’ strike against City in Round 1.
Young soon made an even better save from Penha himself as the Brazilian cut inside from the right wing and aimed towards the far corner after Rhys Bozinovski made a brilliant interception high up the pitch.
City continued to threaten and Jamie Maclaren nudged a header just wide of the post before all of United’s excellent work was undone by another long-range belter.
Following a scramble in the box as United tried to clear Tolgay Arslan’s free-kick, Curtis Good got a decisive flick out to Antonis on the edge of the box and the City substitute stepped onto a powerful half-volley that flew into the top-right corner.
United pushed forward in search of an equaliser but it wasn’t to be, with United left frustrated at the final whistle after another positive performance went unrewarded.
Despite the result, there was a special moment late on in the match as Jake Najdovski came on for his Isuzu UTE A-League debut and impressed with his energy and work rate up front.