An injury-hit Melbourne City has held on for a 2-2 draw against Sydney FC in a pulsating Hyundai A-League clash at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
Without stars Aaron Mooy, Ivan Franjic and Erik Paartalu, City absorbed some early pressure before taking a 1-0 lead to the break thanks to Aaron Hughes’ first A-League goal.
But a second half double to Sydney playmaker Milos Ninkovic – either side of Bruno Fornaroli’s header – ensured the sides would share their spoils.
The result means City remain in third, ahead of the Sky Blues on goal difference.
1-0 Hughes (37’) - Harry Novillo whipped in a perfect in-swinging corner finding an unmarked Hughes about six yards from goal, the defender producing a brilliant glancing header into the corner of the net.
1-1 Ninkovic (53’) – George Blackwood waited for the overlapping run of Filip Holosko on the right, with the marquee man fizzing a low ball across the goal to Ninkovic, who produced a clever back-heel flick with his right foot to deceive Thomas Sorensen.
2-1 Fornaroli (60’) – Novillo was involved again, breaking free down the right and surging towards the Sydney FC box. Instead of trying to blast away from a tight angle, the Frenchman stood up a cross for Fornaroli who made no mistake with the header for his 11th goal of the season.
2-2 Ninkovic (78’) – Alex Gersbach hit a cross high and deep to the far post, with Holosko looping a header back across goal where a late-arriving Ninkovic rose highest to plant a header into the net.
With just seconds left, Sydney substitute Shane Smeltz should have given the visitors all three points if not for an inexplicable miss from close range.
A goal-mouth scramble ended with the ball falling to Smeltz just a couple of yards from goal but he somehow scooped the ball over the crossbar with the goal gaping.
It was a poor miss and denied the Sky Blues all three points.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
*Sydney FC are now without a win in their last four away games, their longest streak without a victory on the road in more than two years.
*Fornaroli continues to lead all scorers in the A-League and has now scored six goals in his last six appearances in the competition.
*The Sky Blues dominated the attack stats and had more than double the shots of their hosts, with 19 at goal to City’s nine.
With skipper Alex Brosque and striker Matt Simon missing, the Sky Blues needed their attacking imports to stand up and Ninkovic did that with a moment of magic for his goal.
Holosko’s cross was slightly behind the Serbian but instead of trying to wrap his right foot around it so close to goal, Ninkovic demonstrated his sublime technique.
As the ball got to the playmaker he executed a back-heel flick behind his standing leg and past a stranded Sorensen for the equaliser.
He added a courageous second via a header late on to cap a brilliant night for the sensational Serb!
The Sky Blues dominated the first 30 minutes, having six shots at goal to the home side’s none but were unable to find a breakthrough.
But they will be wondering how they didn’t get a penalty just before the half hour mark when Blackwood was clattered into in the box.
City defender Jacob Melling went right through the young Sydney attacker but referee Strebre Delovski – who was brilliantly positioned – somehow waved away the appeals.
Sydney boss Graham Arnold was fuming and his mood didn’t improve nine minutes later City broke the deadlock down the other end.
City midfielder Jacob Melling had to be carried off the field with 10 minutes left with an ankle injury.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
The Sky Blues only have themselves to blame for not taking all three points from this one.
Graham Arnold’s side had a string of chances – especially in the first half – but didn’t take them with a mixture of poor finishing and excellent keeping from Thomas Sorensen.
While some of their football was excellent, Sydney won’t be a true title contender unless they can discover a more ruthless streak in front of goal.
THE FINAL WORD
City will take great confidence from this result, especially with so many key players out through injury. The last time Mooy missed a match John van ‘t Schip’s side lost 3-0 so this result should prove they can grind out results, even without their star man. The good news is Mooy should be good to go for next Saturday’s blockbuster against the Wanderers at AAMI Park.
Arnold will be wondering how his side didn’t get all three points from this one, especially with their first-half dominance. But until they can take their chances more consistently to go with their eye-catching approach play, then consistent results won’t follow. It will need to improve against the stingy Newcastle Jets defence in their home clash next Saturday.
Melbourne City: Sorensen (gk), Millar, Hughes, Kisnorbo (c), Clisby, Melling (Trifiro 80), Eyigun (Zullo 33’), Koren, Mauk, Novillo, Fornaroli
Sydney FC: Janjetovic (gk), Grant, Ryall (c), Jurman, Gersbach, O’Neill (Dimitrijevic 73’), Tavares, Holosko, Ninkovic, Hoole (Naumoff 89’), Blackwood (Smeltz 73’)
Scorers: Hughes 37’, Ninkovic 53’, Fornaroli 60’, Ninkovic 78’
Red cards: Nil
Yellow cards: Ninkovic 21’, Millar 47’, Novillo 87’
Conditions: 23C, FineAttendance: 10,140 @ AAMI Park