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 The main fade-outs since mid-October include Iacopo La Rocca, Nick Fitzgerald and Osama Malik and they’ve certainly been replaced by more effective personnel (though I must make mention of Neil Kilkenny who never got a chance to show if he could be effective, despite winning the club’s best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.

Melbourne City: 2014-15 Season Review

The season is over. Bitter cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory ended up the league premiers and the champions. Melbourne City on the other hand, in their first season under the new ownership and new name, fell short of the expectations given prior to the campaign. Inconsistent performances led us to 5th position (6th if it wasn’t for Perth’s punishment). Was it a successful season? I don’t think so overall, despite scraping into the finals and winning our first finals game. But regardless, we’ll reminisce about our roller coaster of a season as I look back at the best (and worst) of Melbourne City in 2014-15.

Best Performance:
Round 19 vs Adelaide 3-1:

Although it was a relatively poor first half in this match, the drastic shift in performance level was amazing for the second. Safuwan scored his first goal for the club from a corner that set the crowd alight before Josh Kennedy also scored his inaugural goal as he headed home to hit the lead. The match was later sealed with a rare Iain Ramsay finish minutes before the full time whistle.

Best moment:
Paartalu goal vs Victory:

Truly spectacular this was. It’s a moment that fans dream about (too bad I was overseas and hence couldn’t attend it). 0-0. 90th minute. Ball is lobbed in by Dugandzic for Erik Paartalu to score the header to win the derby.

Surprise outstanding player:
Tando Velaphi

Last season, there was very little positive reaction to the signing of former Victory goalkeeper Tando Velaphi. Having signed merely as a back-up to Andrew Redmayne, nothing was expected of him. However, after round 8’s dismal display against Wellington, Velaphi started the following week. He kept a clean sheet in his first start of the season; our first for the season. From then on, he proved vital in our major improvement throughout the season. The 28-year-old kept an amazing nine clean sheets from just 19 starts – the equal highest for the season. Producing memorable saves to keep us in games or to keep us in the lead, Tando did it all. Undoubtedly a surprising key player as we were able to make the finals.

Disappointing player:
Robert Koren:

Besart Berisha, Thomas Broich, Marcelo Carrusca, Marc Janko. These are the marquee players who constantly deliver for their team. Unfortunately, Robi Koren just hasn’t worked out for Melbourne City. Admittedly, he scored a hattrick in his first start against Newcastle. But the Slovenian midfielder failed to be a catalyst for City. Often going missing in matches and his inability to make an impact were major reasons why fans believe his performances have been way below par given his status. It is unsure whether Koren will remain at the club but there’s no doubt that Melbourne City need a marquee player who will dominate and win matches on his own at times.
Best young player:
Jacob Melling:

Signed on a youth contract after having just featured just nine times for Adelaide United, Melling would develop as a fine midfielder in his first season for City. Immediately becoming a fan favourite due to the composure and aggression shown in the middle of the park, the now 20-year-old is someone who fans would love to start each week given he remains injury free. We could definitely expect to see Melling become one of the best Australian midfielders in the league if he continues to replicate his performances this season.
Connor Chapman: If we forget some of the poor displays by our defenders towards the back end of the season, we’ll appreciate the efforts of the former Newcastle Jets centre half. He was unbeatable at the back on some occasions as a result of his terrific defensive positioning and ability to carry the ball out of defence with full confidence. Chapman has a case of glandular fever that isn’t easy to be rid of as it kept him out of the side early in the season and could perhaps continue to affect him. Nevertheless, fans have seen that he can become a top defender for City and the league.

We also hope to see Ben Garuccio, Marc Marino and Stefan Mauk regularly next season and injury free.

Best goals:
1. Harry Novillo vs WSW: https://youtu.be/kDzK4iN_FMI?t=1m2s

2. Aaron Mooy vs Perth Glory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoiMjSFuzn8

3. Aaron Mooy vs WSW: https://youtu.be/s7ygOF5tH-o?t=4m48s

For all of Melbourne City’s goals this season: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2VDmFmpYH0

Best Player:

Aaron Mooy

Well, what a season for Aaron Mooy. Having arrived from Western Sydney, no one came close to matching his dominant performances almost every week for City. He recorded 7 goals and 8 assists throughout the season (most for each) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His immense work rate, exquisite passing range, composure, ability to dictate the match and reliability were and hopefully will continue to be major factors for his success. He deservedly took out the award for our best player of the season.

Well there we have it – some of the key things we can take away from the season. A clearing out of players has begun, with club releasing long-serving forward Mate Dugandzic as well as Iain Ramsay. It is no surprise that Damian Duff and Rob Wielaert won’t be back, both being at the end of their playing days. Kew Jalien’s experience will be missed though he too is near the end of his career. Let’s hope the club can sign major players who can lead us to bigger and better things for the next season, including a bigger supporter base. It will be a long wait for the 2015-16 campaign when we can see Melbourne City once again compete in the A-League and hopefully challenge for top spot.

Come on City!

 

Elimination Final Review: Wellington Phoenix 0 – 2 Melbourne City

Wellington-City

Finals football. Due to a very poor run going into this match, most Melbourne City fans had little hope in the lead up. The team had lost the last two matches of the season away from home against Perth Glory and Adelaide United causing plenty of worry.

Melbourne City lined up as follows:

                              Velaphi

Retre        Chapman       Kisnorbo       Germano

                    Mooy   Koren   Paartalu

   Williams             Kennedy                Novillo

The absence of a single natural full back added to the issues as Jack Clisby was out with an injury, while Safuwan Baharudin was sent back home due to a back injury. The match had started with no real intensity but the home side were first to threaten to take the lead. An early bit of work from Nathan Burns allowed him to strike one from outside the area only for it to go wide.

However, City found room shortly after as Koren played a great ball to David Williams who had time and space but the 27-year-old was not composed enough to get a convincing shot away. A great set-piece variation that was definitely practiced on the training ground almost allowed Harry Novillo to strike home but his effort was blocked. It seemed as though City were looking hungry.

Michael McGlinchey’s free kick had struck the top of the crossbar causing danger for Tando Velaphi. The half-time whistle was blown after a fairly even contest that had not balanced in either team’s favour yet.

Several minutes into the second half, the game took a drastic turn, fortunately in the favour of the visitors. Josh Kennedy received two brilliant deliveries in the space of two minutes that were both put wide. It was Germano at left back who had come on to his favoured right foot to produce two brilliant crosses for the big man. However, it remained scoreless.

Only two minutes later though Harry Novillo, who had been causing trouble on the left wing, strolled into the danger area before sliding back to Aaron Mooy whose shot was eventually turned in by Josh Kennedy. It was an unbelievable moment as City had taken the lead but there was still plenty of work to be done.

Wellington wanted to push forward but failed to test the City defence and goalkeeper. It led to a counter attack for Melbourne City where Paulo Retre had delivered to Novillo before the Frenchman’s shot was deflected onto the post and off goalkeeper Glen Moss’ back – into the net! A fortunate but nonetheless historic moment for City. Their lead was doubled and seemed all but certain to advance into the semi-finals.

The home side were unable to get back in the game. As the final whistle was blown, City were through. We had booked a semi final against our cross town rivals – Melbourne Victory vs Melbourne City at Etihad Stadium on Friday night, something City fans thought they could only dream of.

Come on City!

 

 

 

 

Melbourne City vs Brisbane Roar 1-0 Review

City-Brisbane

The stage was set at AAMI Park for a massive showdown that would incidentally be very much a six-pointer.

Melbourne City: Played 22 matches. 6th. 30 points

Brisbane Roar: Played 21 matches. 7th. 25 points

A win for City would increase the gap to 8 points as we headed into the tail-end of the season knowing that a finals position is a must. Coming off two consecutive impressive victories against Newcastle and Sydney, we were in good form and having not lost in 7 appearances at AAMI Park, nothing but a win would be acceptable.

Josh Kennedy returned from injury and was immediately at the heart of the action. A ball from Koren in the opening moments of the match saw our Australian marquee man rise to meet it with his head, only to somehow be kept out allowing Jonatan Germano to tap it in for the early lead.

It begged the thought of whether it could be a massively dominant result but it was anything but. City opted to sit back for the majority of the match after the goal which provided the Roar with plenty of possession. James Brown, last week’s match winner, suffered an injury which brought him off and was replaced by Harry Novillo.

Brisbane looked the more threatening as they tested the Melbourne City defence but another brilliant performance by the pairing of Kisnorbo and Jaliens stopped most of their attacks. Tando Velaphi also failed to put a foot wrong once again and kept out every shot that hit him.

The second half continued to see a conservative City side that still had a few chances to kill off the game. Novillo and Germano both saw their attempts fly off target. Fortunately, despite having plenty of the ball, the Roar did not create any clear chances which kept off much of the stress for the home fans and the counter attacks that City were relying on couldn’t be thrived on.

Novillo once again picked up the ball in space in his own defence before striding on towards the other end. He ignored the option Koren provided on the left and opted to shoot himself which allowed a comfortable save for Young in goals.

In the end the three points were ours. However, they weren’t gained in the expected fashion. Fans wanted to see an attacking showcase to provide excitement but City displayed very little of it. Perhaps a while ago (like against CCM in round 6) we would’ve given up a goal late in the match as the team sat deep piling on the pressure, but we were able to win ‘ugly’ similar to last week against Sydney.

The win was the third successive victory and finals, unless an immensely disappointing run-in to the end of the season awaits, seems certain. But will we make it beyond the first round – elimination final?