Melbourne City have returned to top spot in the A-League Men standings with a swashbuckling 3-2 victory against the Central Coast Mariners.
Taking the ascendancy in the early parts of proceedings, City were uncharacteristically direct and looked to play quick interchanges before releasing Jamie Maclaren beyond Central Coast’s high last line.
In possession, Central Coast began more patiently, seeking to unlock City’s resolute defence through short passes via enigmatic leader Oliver Božanić who often acted as the conductor as the Mariners aimed to orchestrate attackers via their dangerous duo of Jason Cummings and Moresche.
Continuing yet another eye-catching performance, Farrell nutmegged Leckie before a wicked shot from Moresche failed to force a save from Tom Glover as it soared into Row Z.
As the referee signalled two minutes of added time, maligned Frenchman Beni Nkololo struck City with a sucker punch as he combined some smart play with stepovers to beat Curtis Good before hitting a shot with his non-preferred right foot from outside the box as Glover could only get a finger to the ball.
Just seconds after the Mariners presumed they could head into the sheds with a lead, Shaun Evans dubiously awarded the Melbourne side with a penalty on the stroke of half time as Marco Tilio was brought down by Kye Rowles on what looked like the edge of the penalty area. After multiple minutes of consulting the Video Assistant Referee, Evans determined that Tilio had been fouled inside the area, as Maclaren converted the penalty which ensued – his 11th goal in the last 11 games for club and country.
After constantly knocking on Central Coast’s door in the second half, a perfectly timed interchange on the edge of the box between O’Neill and Berenguer sent the Frenchman on his way into the penalty area as he ferociously dispatched the ball past Birighitti’s goal to put his side in front.
However, the Mariners effort did not waiver as they swiftly responded a second goal via their captain Božanić who narrowly avoided drifting offside to latch onto a maiden assist for Jacob Farrell. Despite the Mariners persistence, City converted a deserved third goal to take the lead in the 74th minute as a superb dummy run from Leckie left Tilio unmarked at the back post to tap home a composed finish.
However, the drama did not stop there as Mariners again felt they were robbed by the VAR after Leckie appeared to bring down Lewis Miller in the box with a studs up challenge which forced the youngster off the field with an ankle injury.
City then ran home to secure the three points, with the post-match discussions likely to be centred around the VAR debate.
NABBOUT VS FARRELL
This season, 19-year-old left full-back Jacob Farrell has emerged as one of the A-League’s burgeoning young talents, often holding his own against some of the league’s most esteemed and experienced attacking talents. With his slight frame and unassuming persona largely representing the dichotomy of Andrew Nabbout’s power and temerity, the battle between the two of them down Melbourne City’s right flank was mouthwatering at times.
In typical Nabbout fashion, the Socceroo sought to attack the youngster 1v1 in wide areas while also making darting runs to the back post in an attempt to expose Farrell’s weakness in defending crosses. The arm wrestle continued throughout the game as Kisnorbo often changed the dynamic and direction of the side’s attacks by switching Leckie towards that side of the pitch, presumably in an attempt to threaten Farrell with a contrasting skillset.
For all of Nabbout’s experience, his positivity in possession appeared to peter out after his injury scare in the first half as Farrell drew plaudits for the comfort with which he dealt with the dangerous attacker. Additionally, Farrell’s 65th minute assist for Božanić demonstrated the improvements he’s made in possession throughout the season.
SIGNS OF FATIGUE FROM THE MARINERS?
Noticeably more reserved after an intense weekend fixture against Melbourne Victory, Central Coast often allowed Tilio too much space to express himself as he used his intelligence and technical acumen to generate opportunities for his side. The most obvious example of this came in the 15th minute when a cleverly weighted give and go with Florin Berenguer saw Tilio sky a shot over the bar as he looked to power it past Mark Birighitti’s near post.
The team from Gosford’s energy seemed to waiver as the match went on as the side often resorted to a mid block rather than the swashbuckling press that threatened to hurt Melbourne Victory on the weekend. City often made the Mariners defence look like statues as they calmly manoeuvred their way beyond the Gosford side’s often listless pressure.
VAR DIVIDES THE FANS…AGAIN
Controversy marred the game as Shaun Evans – upon consultation with the Video Assistant Referee – awarded Melbourne City a penalty on the stroke of half-time as it was determined that Marco Tilio had been fouled inside the 18-yard box despite all indications pointing to the foul occurring outside the area.
What ensued was madness as Evans stood in front of the VAR screen for the best part of five minutes, deciding against reversing his original decision. Late in the match, the Mariners were also denied a penalty as Evans consulted VAR for several minutes before upholding his initial decision.
The length of the reviews merely supplement already persistent critiques of the way in which the assistant referee system is used in Australia’s top flight, particularly after a perplexing five minute review occurred for a relatively trivial decision during Central Coast’s loss to Victory on Saturday night.
A-League Men Round 8: AAMI Park
Melbourne City 3 (Maclaren 45+7m, Berenguer 57m, Tilio 74m)
Central Coast Mariners 2 (Nkololo 45m, Božanić 65m)
Image Source: Melbourne City