City rediscover winning line-up ahead of last home game

Suddenly the season is nearly over and fortunately Melbourne City are back to looking as formidable as they did in the season’s first rounds. Tonight’s final home game against the Mariners is likely to showcase again Warren Joyce’s winning line-up, which has changed significantly since October.

On Easter Sunday they played as fine as they ever have in red and white, with a 3-0 hammering of second-place Newcastle on their home turf.

Back in October the team was largely the one that Joyce inherited and proved a great combination to win the first four of the season, until Sydney overturned the cart. That opening streak included the Melbourne derby where the team featured a number of players who don’t feature much at all now:

• Kamau – the winner that night was scored by Bruce who added to the two he scored in the opening game. With Fornaroli out injured, Bruce was producing the goods but hasn’t been able to get back in the mix after absences with Australia’s under-23 squad and there’s talk of him going to WSW next season.
• Budzinski – the marquee man came on as a sub and opened the scoring that night but hasn’t made it as a regular under Joyce, despite adding more goals in brief appearances.
• Galekovic – his vast experience and dependability hasn’t been enough to stop him becoming second choice to Bouzanis for reasons only known to Joyce

Two forwards appeared in that derby who no longer call City home for reasons we all know of – Tim Cahill and Ross McCormack.

In the midfield, City’s had more changes this season than the Melbourne weather. The main fade-outs since mid-October include Iacopo La Rocca, Nick Fitzgerald and Osama Malik and they’ve certainly been replaced by more effective personnel (though I must make mention of Neil Kilkenny who never got a chance to show if he could be effective, despite winning the club’s best and fairest!). The game-changers have been:

• Arzani: no-one could argue he doesn’t deserve to be there now, lighting up each game with his dribbling and assists.
• Vidosic: he’s proven quality and it was no surprise that he was brought straight in and is now scoring important goals.

The mainstays have been Jakobsen (found in defensive roles some games), Mauk (who I’ve always admired for his cavalier style) and Brattan who give City that consistency they’ve lacked in previous seasons. In defence, Jamieson and Atkinson have grabbed their chances and have rewarded Joyce’s faith in them.

The question remains whether this winning line-up will now improve to the extent that they can at last beat the Sydney machine, which has faltered in recent times. The finals await and all we can hope for is that the team performances will be topped by more Fornaroli goals, assisted by more of the Arzani magic who should start scoring some of his own. His prize would be to earn himself a well-deserved Socceroos place in Russia.

City sidelined by the Sydney machine

In football there’s only two ways to read the tea leaves before your team comes up against a formidable opponent: either the opponent is going to roll over the top of your team or it will finally falter because your side is ‘due a win’.

The latter reading was particularly favoured by City fans like me because our team had fired up again – 4 wins and 2 draws in the last 6 games, including a 5-0 drubbing of Adelaide and almost clinching a winner against second-placed Newcastle. Surely after losing to Sydney in the FFA cup quarters in September, then twice in the league, City was due a win against the top team…

In the first 30 minutes of this game City gave me hope that my prediction was right. Budzinski fired a few shots and Arzani looked dangerous in keeping with his recent form. Then again, Sydney’s defence didn’t appear that troubled. If only City had retained Wilkinson a few seasons ago, then our defence might be as solid as Sydney’s. A more pressing question on the fans’ minds was how would the team go without this season’s goal machine Ross McCormack. His long range stunner against Adelaide showed what a quality player he is and we sorely needed him in this clash, not back at Villa in England where his future is in doubt. At least Fornaroli was sitting on the bench itching to make up for his lost season so far.

Back on the pitch, suddenly out of nothing Brosque was through City’s defence and Bouzanis did the predictable thing and brought him down, even though the Sydney captain was wide of the goal. The penalty was converted by Bobo. My hopes didn’t sink at that point because we’d shown in numerous games this season that we know how to fight back when going behind. All credit to Joyce for instilling that spirit in the players which was so lacking for years.

At this point perhaps City’s players were waiting for each other to click into fight-back mode, rather than step up personally. In the midfield in particular, Brattan and Mauk went AWOL with Vidosic lacking his usual sharpness. Ten minutes later Ninkovic, arguably Sydney’s most dangerous player, waltzed through the middle and easily volleyed one home.

Only a blistering performance from Fornaroli in the second half and better team defending offered any hope now. I’d like to think that Joyce would have made some tactical changes too. However judging by his comments in the post-match press conference, it didn’t cross his mind because he put it onto the players to simply not repeat the mistakes they made in the first half. So we inevitably witnessed the same outcome in the second 45 minutes. Sydney are a game-winning machine and City failed to make any interventions to stop it. Fornaroli’s return gave us one thing to cheer about and we jumped for joy when later he scored, only for it to be ruled out for an infringement.

I’d certainly misread those proverbial tea leaves and we went home deeply disappointed that a third placed team hardly mounted a challenge to a team running away with the league. Joyce rightly noted Sydney’s excellent ability to make the right decisions in attack and City should have done better with the few chances they created, having scored at least two goals in each of the previous 6 games. But it was the lack of determination to deny Sydney space to play that was most deflating. You can only hope City get over it quickly and regain that grittiness we’ve come to admire this season.

#MelbDerby: What went right and wrong for City

Victory-City

What went right!

  • Josh Kennedy coming on. Although he didn’t score in the Derby he knows where to be to get the goals, a player that has been lacking in the City line up.
  • Besart Berisha tried to be too fancy and missed a goal from close range. We were lucky not to be four goals down.
  • City had far more possession of the ball and more shots than Victory – don’t believe it? See the stats below.

What went wrong!

  • Ramsay coming off around the 30 minute mark. What was with that?! I would even question why he was in the starting eleven. Apparently this was because John van’t Ship didn’t believe Ramsay was working and tried Willo.
  • Erik Paartalu’s absence: he was sorely missed as cover for our defence which couldn’t deal with Victory’s quick passing
  • Victory only needed 3 shots on target. They all found the back of the net.
  • Poor on target shooting accuracy of 37.5%
  • Mooy didn’t seem to be at his best and wasn’t able to show us his fine form that he has shown during the season so far.
  • John van’t Schip’s post match press comments said City were flat footed and were not good enough. He looked deflated during the press conference. City being “not at the races” was JVS’s favourite quote. Maybe City were at the races instead of being on the pitch!
  • This keeps Brisbane Roar 1 point from sixth postion and makes it harder for City. They had a chance to increase the buffer and failed.
  • City have really missed Tando, hopefully he is back for next week. Tando has become a crowd favourite and when he is playing City seem to win more than they lose.
  • 11 shots from outside the box to only 3 shots inside the box. This is interesting – City don’t normally have this many attempts from outside the box.

The Stats! (Click here to see the full stats for the Melbourne Derby)

#Melbderby match preview

Victory-CityIt’s derby time again and after fourteen derbies both teams are tied at five wins all.

City seem to have turned the tide over the last few months keeping themselves in the top 6. During this period they won the last derby 1-0 in front of just over 26,000 at AAMI park.

With the Asian cup providing a timely breathing space at the half way point in the A-League, City came back with a 2-1 win against WSW, keeping the Sydneysiders winless and continuing City’s surprising winning form. You can read our review of that match here.

All that aside, the Melbourne Derby matches have turned into bragging rights to be the number one team in this city. Both teams are determined to be the best and these matches always have the feel of a finals match rather than a regular A-League game.

City sees Josh Kennedy coming in for hopefully his first match for the team and the A-League. But it’s the younger players who are giving City an exciting edge currently – Melling is like a freight train who can’t be derailed, Mooy has the touches to win any game, Chapman is proving a reliable partner for Kisnorbo at the back and now Clisby gets to show what he’s made of at left back. Not that we should rule out the experience of Koren playing a pivotal role.

Melbourne Victory have nearly a full squad coming into the match, only missing Milligan and Delpierre. And that means their defence is vulnerable, as they demonstrated in Perth recently by allowing the league leaders to come back for a 3-3 draw. But Muscat will fire up his players and Berisha must be itching to get back into goal scoring form. He loves a big occasion and if Barbarouses and Finkler also respond well to a large Victory crowd at Docklands, then City could be up against it. City have shown recently they’re developing that thing called ‘character’. Let’s hope the players build on it and show Victory we are a team determined to get to the finals no matter who we come up against.

Come on City!

 

Melbourne City: Let’s get real!

Let’s get real, fellow Melbourne City friends. We know the media and most betting sites hyped us up in the pre-season and put Melbourne City as favourites to win this season. City even won its first ever pre-season friendly against another A-League club!That sugar high of the pre-season had many of us up in the sky dreaming of what could be. But the current reality couldn’t be more different. Let’s break it down:

The Club:
Since the new owners have taken over a lot has been going on in the background that we don’t get to see. We’ve heard our new owners have been injecting money into infrastructure, school programs and a soccer academy, all of which will help create a strong club…in the future. The new owners look like they are putting money in creating a solid foundation that any successful club needs. But these will take time and Heart never had capital to be able to invest properly into these essentials.

The playing squad and Coach:
We picked up some great players during the off season, particularly Duff, Mooy and Paartalu. These guys are playing well for our team but the potential they offer hasn’t translated into better overall performances by the team. Unfortunately and incredibly it seems the club didn’t think to regenerate our defensive stocks or even our striking department. This lack of quality and depth has cost the team points and left fans understandably disappointed and angry, judging by the current debates on social media.

There’s also that sense of the Heart’s deficiencies lingering on through this season. It will take time to shape a new mentality in the team. In the meantime it’s hard watching the mistakes and inability to take charge of a game for the full 90 minutes. Allowing the Mariners to come back and snatch that 2-2 draw at home recently was just typical of critical games in previous seasons.

The City group have a world wide scouting network, which we hope they start using to greater effect. We will eventually get a quality squad that you would expect will rival the top clubs in the A-League. You cannot imagine City Group would want to waste time and money on a system which is not successful!

The pressure on John van’t Schip will continue to build, who has now come out and said no-one’s place in the team is guaranteed. We can only hope he means what he says and gets ruthless with those who are underperforming and gives others a genuine chance. The City group will not handle being bottom feeders and will be looking for the next coach that will take the team to the next level.

The Active Supporters and GA supporters:
We have record membership and great crowd attendance. Our active supporters group, the Melburnians, are new  too. They create the atmosphere and they are still working on their set pieces and formats. They are trying hard and trying to incorporate the GA – which sort of works some home games.

Like the club they too are a work in progress and will also take time to gel and work themselves out. When they do, seeing the three Active bays all in sync and chanting will look and sound great and will naturally see a flow on effect across the GA.

Let’s all remember we are Melbourne City and we have history. Yes it might be only four years and that’s a spec in time. But all us old Heart supporters went through lots of hard yards with the struggling club to get to where we are now. We cannot forget this and we shouldn’t! To be successful we need to remember where we come from and embrace it.

We can embrace and incorporate all that is old along with the new.
Let’s all cheer our club in red, white and sky blue!

We are Melbourne City!

What does all this mean?
Most successful clubs take time and money, along with the right management at the top and a coach who can build a team hungry to succeed. The City Group are building, investing and setting the infrastructure for what a great club needs to be the best. Unfortunately these all take time and we will have to ride out the transition period on the road to being a power house club that we all want.

Go City this Sunday at home against the Roar, the one and only side we’ve beaten this season. Getting another win will restore team confidence and may be help fans believe this squad has what it takes to not settle for mediocrity.