Talking Points: City forge new mentality in Perth heat – but can they build on landmark result?
Defining moments within a footballing season are built in the face of adversity. For over 10 years in the Hyundai A-League, Melbourne City have come up short in this category.
It has become a black mark against the club’s quest to join the Hyundai A-League elite. Sunday’s clash with Perth Glory, the reigning Premiers, was another acid-test of their credentials.
City looked like they were going to breeze the exam. Incredibly, Erick Mombaerts' side led 3-0 at the interval. But as neutral fans have come to appreciate, nothing is ever easy when the club from Bundoora are concerned.
There was the sense Perth were going to throw everything at City in the second. What followed was an all-out bombardment on Thomas Glover’s goal.
Joel Chianese renewed hope and five minutes over the hour mark former City talisman Bruno Fornaroli made it 3-2. At that point, you could almost hear the tweets being drafted up around Australia in preparation of another City collapse.
Same old City. Another implosion when it matters most.
But Mombaerts’ side managed to hold on by the skin of their teeth, despite Perth hitting the crossbar twice in a relentless assault on the City goal.
It is a win that moves City into outright second, six points above Perth and 10 behind leaders Sydney. It is only the club’s third ever win at HBF Park. And, crucially, it is a victory that should go some way to ending the age-old criticism about the club’s capacity to wither in the moments that separate genuine title contenders from pretenders.
Those accusations surfaced with intensity in December. City were dismantled 3-0 by Perth in Melbourne, before losing the Melbourne derby to a Victory team staggering through worst-ever form. A 2-1 defeat to Sydney, which saw City play with a man advantage for 75 minutes and barely offer a whimper, was seen as the ultimate marker of the club’s inferiority complex against the elite.
Yesterday, City demonstrated the kind of title-winning character Sydney showed on that night. They might not catch the Sky Blues this season, but their 3-2 win in Perth is a watershed result which the club must build on not just in 2019/20, but for seasons to come.
The question, of course, is whether they can.
"I think Melbourne City today overcame a massive mental barrier," hailed Mark Bosnich on FOX Sports.
"In the past, we've seen situations like that... where they've been playing like Barcelona and the another like a non-league side. But they held out.
"The easiest thing in the world would've been to collapse. But they know they can do it now."
Perth's credentials enhanced despite loss
One of the more amusing takeaways from Sunday’s epic in WA is that, despite a rare defeat to City at home, and having now won only one from their last six matches, Perth emerge with their title credentials emboldened.
Such was the ferocity of the reigning Premiers’ second half display. Perth looked the most dangerous they have in months in a ruthless Diego Castro-inspired offensive that produced 13 shots on the City goal.
Chianese returned to the score sheet having previously lost his way due to Nick D’Agostino’s form and teed up Fornaroli for a brilliant assist.
Later, Castro and Fornaroli were denied brilliant goals by the woodwork. City did not muster a single shot until 84 minutes, when Liam Reddy was called upon to keep out Jamie Maclaren and Adrian Luna in quick succession.
"We could have won three or four football games in the second half,” admitted Tony Popovic in the aftermath.
Western United put the league on notice
Western United could not buy a goal in February. Now Mark Rudan’s side have 11 goals in their past two games. Where on earth has that come from?
The new kids on the block appeared a side devoid of confidence and courage in the final third during 270 goalless minutes against Newcastle Jets, Brisbane Roar and Wellington Phoenix.
But against Central Coast Mariners and Adelaide United, the Victorians have looked like sure-fire top-six material.
After their 5-1 win over Adelaide on Saturday, the Green and Black have become just the second team in Hyundai A-League history to tally five plus goals in back to back matches (the last team to do so was Melbourne City in November-December of 2015).
It has taken United back into the Finals Series positions at the expense of the Reds. Are they going to stay there? Next Saturday evening’s trip to Perth will tell us more.
Adelaide's kamikaze approach taking a toll
Western United’s resurgence over the past fortnight – and the continually excellent form of Brisbane Roar – has coincided with Adelaide’s slide out of the six.
It has been a dreadful period for Gertjan Verbeek’s side and the Dutchman is cutting an increasingly frustrated figure. Verbeek said his side ‘defended like clowns’ during their 5-2 defeat to Western Sydney Wanderers on February 21 and the ex-Eredivisie man was lost for words on Saturday night.
Eventually, he labelled his side’s performance a ‘disaster’.
“We did not play as a team, then it’s very difficult to win the game,” he said.
Despite a shocking series of turn outs, it isn’t time for Adelaide to despair as the Reds are still only three points off fourth-placed Perth.
What is certain, however, is that Adelaide’s run home is guaranteed to be as exciting and thrillingly unpredictable as their 2019/20 season has been so far.
Sydney deliver rivals knockout punch
On the surface, Sydney FC’s 4-1 win over Melbourne Victory looked like a stroll in the park for the Premiership front runners.
The reality was a little different. Steve Corica’s side were uncharacteristically sloppy in the opening half, with Milos Ninkovic particularly guilty of giving the ball away, while Rhyan Grant and Ryan McGowan struggled to find their mark.
Ola Toivonen missed a great headed chance for Victory – who will really feel they should have entered the half time break with a sizable buffer, not parity, after a lovely Ninkovic take cancelled out Marco Rojas’ excellent solo goal on five minutes.
Victory would rue another failure to capitalise on first half dominance as Sydney stormed home, with Anthony Caceres and Adam Le Fondre firing in two goals in as many minutes to leave their Big Blue rivals floored and their top six hopes in tatters.
McDonald gives Brisbane a new dimension
Brisbane have famously struggled to score first half goals this season, but Robbie Fowler’s side might have discovered a formula to that ailment.
Roar scored two first half goals through Scott McDonald in Friday’s 3-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers, a win which secures the Queenslanders as firm favourites for a top six finish.
16 of their 23 goals scored this campaign have arrived in the final half hour of matches throughout 2019/20 – which indicates the safety-first approach Fowler’s men have employed for most of their exploits, and also demonstrates that Brisbane like to peak towards the end of their games.
With McDonald netting his first goals in Roar colours, the Premier League legend could be tempted again to release the shackles and leave their opponents off-guard as they did at Suncorp Stadium.
Cacace keeps Phoenix rolling on
Liberato Cacace marked his 50th Hyundai A-League match for Wellington Phoenix by opening the scoring in his side's 3-1 win over Central Coast Mariners on Sunday.
At 19 years of age, the Kiwi is the Phoenix's youngest ever player to bring up that milestone.
Almost a year to the date, Cacace netted his first ever in Wellington's 8-2 win over the Mariners.
The scoreline might not have been the same, but the feeling was similar for the Gosford club. Phoenix, on the other hand, continue their march toward the Finals Series.
"We don't look at where we sit on the table," said boss Ufuk Talay.
"For us it is our goal to make the top six at the end of the season and we'll continue to do that."