Talking points: Shrewd Melbourne City dismiss the norm in unorthodox Premiership claim
Three horses have gained the overwhelming backing in the race for the Premiership, and as we near the halfway point Melbourne City stand as unfashionable outcasts.
Warren Joyce would be the first to admit his fourth-placed side lack the offensive enterprise of Perth Glory, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, the three front-runners in prime contention for silverware.
Indeed, City’s season to date has been at times concealed by the criticism Joyce has received for sidelining premier marksman Bruno Fornaroli.
But should his City side continue their boa-constrictor strangle of the opposition as seen in their 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar on Friday night, Joyce’s trademark sideline grimace might soon begin to lighten.
City have now kept five clean sheets for the season, and the dark horse bid for the Premiership they have quietly assembled was captured in summation against Roar, as makeshift forward Ritchie De Laet came up with the match winner, Fornaroli watching it all unfurl from the AAMI Park stands.
From the moment Fornaroli was omitted for the Round 3 trip to Brisbane Roar, Joyce’s preference for street wisdom, careful possession play and utmost defensive diligence was made clear.
And although this approach will introduce a thin margin for error in the months that will follow, City will be emboldened in their nine-point chase of leaders Perth Glory by the fact they know how the grind out results.
What is more, the transfer window might just offer up another wildcard ploy for Joyce – potentially an attacking presence that would really propel their pursuit.
ANALYSIS: City match-winner De Laet the symbol of Joyce's unconventional Premiership bid
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Another glorious comeback
The measured, patient chug of Melbourne City is in the highest opposition to the trail-blazing stampede of ladder leaders Perth Glory.
Glory looked like dropping points to Western Sydney Wanderers but rifled in three goals in seven minutes to win 4-3, boost their Premiership favouritism in the most emphatic way imaginable.
In the last week, Tony Popovic’s side have scored eight goals in the final 30 minutes of play, which is half of the 16 goals City have registered all season.
After wringing six changes for their 3-1 victory over Sydney FC, Popovic made another five for the visit of his former employers.
And although he admitted there were several flaws in his side’s performance, Perth’s faith in his system and ability to keep knocking on the door no matter how dire the situation is will be a title-winning trait Popovic cannot fault.
A long-expected party
It was meant to be a day in tribute to the Hyundai A-League’s first-ever triple centurion.
But an early Mariners onslaught, followed by a remarkable Roy Krishna-led turnaround, firmly directed the spotlight away from Phoenix captain Andrew Durante’s colossal achievement – perhaps only for a moment.
Durante became the first ever Hyundai A-League player to reach 300 games, but it was only fitting that Krishna – five years to the date of his Wellington debut – guided Mark Rudan’s side to another memorable occasion.
Krishna won and dispatched two penalties with nerveless abandon and the swashbuckling run was his that led to David William’s 65th minute match clincher.
That’s eight matches unbeaten now for the Phoenix, and some cause to celebrate. How long will the party continue?
Time-honoured struggles with fitness and the form of teammate Adam Le Fondre has relegated Siem de Jong to second Sydney FC fiddle this campaign.
But the mercurial Dutchman appears to be hitting his stride of late, evidenced by a glorious free-kick in Sydney FC’s 2-1 win over Adelaide United.
That sublime moment of dead ball brilliance is one the on-loan Ajax maestro has always had in his locker, and something we’ve seen already on Australian soil.
But de Jong – who has often been caught on the periphery for Steve Corica’s side – looked a more-rounded threat against the Reds.
It’s just the second time this season he’s completed the 90 minutes, and a fully fit and firing de Jong could prove to be a key force in the title race which many have overlooked.
Troisi seizes the initiative
Title-winning seasons are not remembered by these results, and if Melbourne Victory do claim the Premiership this season their 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets will likely fade into the background.
That would be a shame for James Troisi, who offered a performance to be treasured in Saturday night’s last-gasp victory at home.
Kevin Muscat fielded what might just be the tallest striking partnership in Hyundai A-League history, but neither the 1.92 metre and 2.01 metre frames of Ola Toivonen and Kenny Athiu were able to beat the Jets.
It left Troisi, who sparked Terry Antonis’ opener with a deft and insightful piece of midfield craft, to eventually claim the decisive goal – a brilliantly thumped effort late on which left the Jets heart broken.
That showed the marriage of silk and steel that is Troisi at his best. Victory will continue to look to his midfield influence in the absence of Keisuke Honda.