Goals, atmosphere and luck still missing despite City’s best season yet – end of season review

Max says…

While City arguably had its best season yet (more from Ash on that further down), let’s focus on a few factors that the club still lacks when compared to its competitors: attacking nous or creativity, crowd atmosphere and luck.

Luck: Successful clubs hardly rely on luck to go places, however City could learn a few things from today’s grand finalists – Newcastle and Victory. What’s stayed with me from our semi-final defeat to Newcastle is that both of the Jets’ goals had good fortune about them, but they demonstrated that teams make their own luck in front of goal at crucial times. The same could be said about two of Victory’s goals in their gritty win over Sydney. Sometimes you just have to shoot when there’s half an opening, which Fornaroli demonstrated with a few goals late in the campaign. Other players, like the departed Fitzgerald, lacked this decisiveness.

Attacking strategies: Overall City lacked the ability to create more situations where attacking interplay, shooting accuracy or a bit of luck from a shot resulted in goals being scored. Another way of saying this is Joyce lacked strategies to break down an opponent’s defences. City’s 44 goals from 27 games was less than the last two seasons and way behind Newcastle (59) and Sydney (66). When you consider we won more corners than any other team, then clearly City was unable to exploit its advantages. McCormack used his strength and long range shooting ability to get a good return for effort, whereas Fornaroli needed far better service once he returned from injury. Arzani did his best, although he has shown goal scoring to be his ‘growth area’. It’s disappointing to see City let go of Kamau and I feel the club fails to give young strikers time and opportunities to develop at the senior level.

Atmosphere: And scoring goals no matter who you’re playing is part of building a bigger following…and therefore a better atmosphere for a team to thrive in. In the era of ‘systems’ winning out over style, I appreciate that Joyce has put in place a better defensive system, aided notably by player of the year Schenkeveld (apologies to Bart for not mentioning him in a previous blog!). But attacking flare with an element of the unpredictable is a key element in drawing crowds, not to mention family-friendly game times (take note FFA and Foxtel) and a game day culture that resonates. Playing Oasis songs before / after City games does not resonate. Newcastle have the advantage of having a single city behind them, but they have football history and an adopted song chosen by the fans – ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ by INXS. There’s some homework for us City fans over the off-season: find an Aussie tune, original or adopted, to sing to and help turn the atmosphere around.

Ash says…

Upon reflecting on the whole season and all things considered, City had its best season, despite the disappointment of not making the grand final.

Going into the semi-final I was quietly confident that it would be City going into the decider against Sydney. But, Ernie Merrick is a great A-League coach and he rallied his troops to the challenge, beating us fairly. Once again it left me to reflect on what could have been for the season that was.

It was unfortunate to see Fornaroli injured in the FFA Cup, but it saw Ross McCormack step in as an injury replacement and what a replacement! 14 goals in 17 matches. It is a pity that we couldn’t keep him for the whole season.

City had its rising stars in some great young talent – Daniel Arzani and Nathaniel Atkinson. Arzani was great to watch, certainly one of the highlights for the year with a bright future ahead.

Bart Schenkeveld was another standout. Clearly one of the best players in the A-League, he kept the defence in line and helped provide City with its lowest goals against in a season.

And our coach, Warren Joyce, certainly kept the fans talking off the pitch. In the end he oversaw City’s best season yet, just missing the Grand Final. If he can continue this trend and we have a good pre-season recruiting some new attacking weapons, I am definitely looking forward to seeing City in action next season.

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!