City overcome “Anti-Football” game plan

by Jeremy Ruane
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 13 – 2017/2018 – Round 14
7:50pm, Saturday 6 January, 2018 – Melbourne Football Stadium

Melbourne City FC 2 (Ross McCormack 72′, 80′)
Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (Roy Krishna 42′)

Melbourne City scored a come-from-behind 2-1 Hyundai A-League victory over Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park on January 6, the visitors frustrating the 5,207 fans present with an “anti-football” game plan which almost succeeded in earning the bottom-placed side their second win of the season.

City dominated the possession stakes, but that’s hardly surprising given Wellington’s employment of a frustratingly negative “play to not lose” approach to proceedings – appropriate for their circumstances, but one which meant the prospect of victory would always be of secondary importance; a bonus, not the prime objective of their participation.

Little wonder Wellington’s support base is dwindling by the match. This was their second-lowest attendance in all A-League fixtures this season, and it would not at all surprise to see them drop below the 5,000 mark sooner rather than later.

That said, Wellington’s defensive-minded tactics were such that Melbourne struggled to penetrate them, and it was the visitors’ counter-attacking approach which offered spectators more moments of genuine excitement in a largely lethargic first half.

Their first raid came in the seventh minute, when Andrija Kaludjerovic burst through and bore down on goal, only to be denied in the act of shooting by recovering defender Bart Schenkeveld.

City responded on the quarter-hour, Daniel Mullen’s attempted clearance falling invitingly for Ross McCormack, whose shot drew a save from Lewis Italiano. Seconds later, Manny Muscat’s driving run forward resulted in a great chance for fellow former Wellington player Dario Vidosic, who scuffed the opportunity to open the scoring against the club he left a fortnight ago.

After Dean Bouzanis had dived to his right to keep out an eighteen-yarder from Kaludjerovic, McCormack flicked a volley over the top following a Luke Brattan free-kick in the 28th minute.

The final act of note in the first half saw Wellington open the scoring three minutes before its conclusion. Roy Krishna pounced on an awful defensive mix-up as City failed to clear Tom Doyle’s cross, the Fijian flicking the ball beyond Bouzanis to stun the natives and give the visitors the half-time advantage.

Eleven minutes into the second half, Wellington came desperately close to doubling their lead. Kaludjerovic pounced on a loose ball and played it across to Krishna, who got to the by-line before picking out his fellow front-runner with a cross which Kaludjerovic met with a header which crashed off the underside of the crossbar and bounced back into the field of play.

City heeded the warning, and instantly responded via young substitute Daniel Arzani, just hours after he’d celebrated his nineteenth birthday. The youngster drew a diving save from Italiano initially, then delivered a measured cross for Vidosic, whose diving header flashed past the upright as Wellington continued to hold what they had and hope that it would be enough.

They looked to consolidate their advantage half-way through the second spell. Bouzanis kept out another Kaludjerovic header from a searching Krishna cross, while the roles were reversed in the 67th minute, Kaludjerovic sending Krishna down the right at pace before he battered a shot into the near post side-netting.

Melbourne responded instantly, McCormack’s dipping twenty-five yarder drawing a fine save from Italiano, with Vidosic, from Scott Jamieson’s resulting corner, heading narrowly over at the near post.

City deserved some reward for all their possession, and it finally materialised eighteen minutes from time. Brattan and Vidosic linked up with Arzani on the right, from where the substitute arrowed a low cross across the goalmouth. Racing in to meet it on the far post was McCormack – 1-1, to the undisguised delight of the local faithful.

That was the catalyst for a dramatic finale, with Doyle blazing over following a Matthew Ridenton corner, before Italiano dashed out to prevent Arzani from latching onto McCormack’s through ball.

The roles were reversed ten minutes from time, and to City’s delight, it proved to be a match-winning combination. Vidosic fed Arzani on the left, from where he uncorked a gem of a curling cross to the far post. Ghosting in to meet it was McCormack, whose close-range header gave City a 2-1 lead.

Italiano thwarted the scorer’s bid to complete his hat-trick with a 35 yard free-kick two minutes from time, after which Kaludjerovic, Michael McGlinchey and Goran Paracki all had shots blocked as Wellington sought a late equaliser, having cast aside late on the tactics from which they had hoped to earn a share of the spoils.

Their efforts were in vain, however, Melbourne retaining their 2-1 advantage through to the final whistle, a win which saw them move back into third place on the table.

Match details

Crowd:  5,207

Melbourne City FC: Bouzanis (gk); Muscat (Arzani, 52), Schenkeveld, Jakobsen, Jamieson; Brattan, Vidosic (Delbridge, 82), Malik; Fitzgerald (Carrusca, 65), McCormack, Atkinson

Wellington Phoenix FC: Italiano (gk); Mullen, Durante (Parkhouse, 89), Rossi (booked, 64); Galloway (booked, 87), Paracki, McGlinchey, Ridenton, Doyle; Krishna (Burns, 70), Kaludjerovic

Points and ratings

Referee: Adam Kersey /10

Match 4/10
Pitch 8/10

Players points
3. McCormack
2. Arzani
1. Kaludjerovic