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 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 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?

Sydney FC vs Melbourne City 0-1 Review

Sydney-City

A win was a must at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium on Friday night and the odds were stacked against Melbourne City. Although we were entering the match after a 4-0 drubbing of Newcastle Jets at home the previous week, fans still had very little hope. We witnessed two very poor consecutive away losses against CCM and WSW, so the supporters couldn’t have been blamed for the lack of optimism.

A major threat coming into the game for Sydney FC was Austrian striker Marc Janko who recently broke the record for most consecutive matches with a goal in the A-League. But who would have thought that after scoring in seven successive games, that City would not allow the marquee striker to stretch it to eight?

The home side however looked the far more dangerous side. Janko had the first major chance, with the ball played in behind the defence only for his shot to cannon off the post and out of the danger area. Our first opportunity arrived after a delightful ball was played by Aaron Mooy who, despite slipping, had met Germano’s head only for the Argentine’s looping header to fly over and wide of the goal.

Sydney dominated the remainder of the half by getting themselves into great positions. However, although they easily broke through the City defence, they failed to test Velaphi. In the latter stage of the half, Koren had a chance as he stabbed at the ball with the outside of his boot before Janjetovic tipped it onto the crossbar and over for a corner.

The boys in red and white looked lively after the break as an early chance fell to Mate Dugandzic before he quite disappointingly skied the ball over the goal. But the hosts further caused trouble in our penalty area.

Bernie Ibini almost put his side in the lead as Velaphi failed to come out of his area to clear the ball which Ibini was able to hit on target. Fortunately our goalkeeper somehow kept it out, continuing his fine form. The danger was prolonged as the Sky Blues were able to get in behind the last line but Patrick Kisnorbo and Kew Jaliens put in brilliant shifts to keep them scoreless.

In the 81st minute, a quick throw-in was taken which allowed Koren to flick on to Mooy prior to the star man providing a majestic pass to James Brown who calmly went around Janjetovic before slotting into an open net. It was a major shock for Melbourne City fans – obviously a pleasant one. We had taken the lead late on but the fans knew that, knowing our history of late disappointments, it would be a stressful finish to the match.

Fortunately, though, Melbourne City were able to hang on and collect all three points in Sydney. Against all the odds, City had pulled off a valiant win in a type of match that we’ve failed to succeed in for years. The hope of finals remain. Brisbane will play Wellington and Western Sydney both in the space of four days and City will hope that they only gain minimal points before the massive showdown at AAMI Park next Saturday. Another must-win that will define our potential finals appearance.

Come on City!

Melbourne City VS Newcastle Jets 4-0 Review

City-Newcastle

A fortnight ago, Melbourne City displayed a brilliant second half performance against Adelaide United at AAMI Park to gain three points. It was a result that many thought could kick start a great run of form to cement a top six spot and make the A-League finals. However, despite playing against two of the bottom three teams in the league in succession, City heavily disappointed by losing both.

The team needed to bounce back and record three points against the bottom side in the league – Newcastle Jets. Due to City’s recent poor form this season, like the previous four seasons, attendance was minimal in Melbourne. Just over 5,000 fans attended a rather satisfactory display from their side.

City looked positive early on with home debutant Harry Novillo showing signs of class early in the match. The Frenchman was able to create plenty of room for himself due to his positivity and confidence on the ball as he was not afraid to attack the goal and beat the Jets defenders. The winger had brilliantly provided a large attacking presence which saw him attempt three shots on goal in the space of 10 minutes.

Very soon after, against his old side, Kew Jaliens opened the scoring after a delightful corner kick from our star player Aaron Mooy that exploited the Jets’ horrid marking in the box. The Dutch veteran, along with the rest of the City defenders and Tando Velaphi were rarely tested in defence for the match. The remainder of the half saw very few chances but the floodgates would open in the second.

Very shortly after the break, Daniel Mullen committed an extremely terrible mistake as he failed to get rid of the ball. It allowed a siege of Melbourne City attackers to pounce and eventually capitalise through Harry Novillo to score his first goal for the club. Not the prettiest goal and it almost seemed they would blow it as Kennedy and Koren failed to finish a certain goal before the 23-year-old finally slotted it home.

The home side continued to pressurise the Newcastle defence as this time Robi Koren found himself in plenty of room only to blaze it over the bar. The Slovenian once again failed to prove his worth, continuing to leave doubts in the fans’ minds about his service as a marquee signing. But the 34-year-old showed his skill minutes later after the returning Germano won back the ball, allowing Koren to play a sublime pass into the path of substitute David Williams whose mishit ended up in the back of the net to extend the lead for City. Williams had come on for Josh Kennedy who had an injury problem – believed to be hip tightness.

Iain Ramsay who also came off the bench was played through by Aaron Mooy before scoring his second goal of the season. The points were put beyond doubt and it turned out to be an impressive result for Melbourne City putting them back into the top six. However, Brisbane Roar have three games in hand and with them being just two points behind, the odds are against us. Six matches remain for Melbourne City and it’s safe to say that unless the players produce several miracles, we will not be seeing a finals appearance this season.