An 88th minute goal from Nathaniel Atkinson saved Melbourne City’s blushes as they overcame a resolute Perth Glory to emerge as eventual victors in a 1-0 win on a cold Wednesday night at AAMI Park.
Despite some early set-piece threat from Perth courtesy of Kosuke Ota’s beautiful delivery, it was the home side who thought they had broken the deadlock in the 12th minute after a textbook Andrew Nabbout cross was turned into his own goal by Ota.
Upon further consultation with Video Assistant Referee Kris Griffiths-Jones, City’s Socceroo winger was controversially deemed to be offside in the lead-up to the goal, thus cutting City fans’ celebrations short.
For all of City’s early dominance – which included holding the line share of ball possession in the first half – Kisnorbo’s side failed to capitalise on a number of set-piece opportunities and attacking overloads, leaving the team’s tied at the half-time break.
With tempers beginning to flare in the second half, Perth began to find themselves some time and space in transition as Bruno Fornaroli asserted himself on the contest with some characteristically strong hold-up play where he looked to release the team forward via counter-attacks.
Following a beautifully weighted long ball from Curtis Good, Melbourne City finally capitalised on their dominance as 79th minute substitute Nathaniel Atkinson secured the three points for City with a well-taken finish late in the encounter.
Despite some phenomenal saves from Alice Springs-born youngster Cameron Cook in Perth Glory’s goal, Melbourne City ran home victors on their home turf in a performance that they hope will catapult their season into gear.
PERTH TIRE UNDER CITY PRESSURE
Sporting a midfield duo of natural full-back Antonee Burke-Gilroy and the inexperienced Luke Bodnar appeared a bizarre decision from the outset given that Richard Garcia’s men were playing away against one of the most intense sides in the A-League Men.
This sluggishness ostensibly catalysed a disjointed midfield performance where Perth’s lack of cohesion was no match for the often swift and dynamic movements that City deploy in their final third.
Bizarrely, conventional midfield player Daniel Stynes was deployed on the right-wing and represented the sole positional shift for which Garcia opted after a superb win against Tony Popović’s Melbourne Victory.
As Perth’s midfield struggled to assert themselves on the fixture, City ended the match with over 70% of the ball possession yet failed to create many meaningful opportunities before Nathaniel Atkinson’s winner in the 88th minute.
TEMPERS FLARE EARLY IN SECOND HALF
After Scott Jamieson was cynically brought down by 24-year-old Burke-Gilroy in an attempt to stop an imminent attempt at a transition from the home side, City’s captain remonstrated and sparked a tussle among players of both sides.
City, still seething after being denied an early goal due to VAR, clearly sought to up the contest’s physicality as Jamieson came to a tête-à-tête with Perth’s marksman Bruno Fornaroli as the two unashamedly confident characters grabbed each others shirts and exchanged some choice words following the blow-up.
Referee Ben Abraham was placed under the microscope early in the fixture following an array of late challenges and was therefore inclined to issue a caution to both Fornaroli and Jamieson following the altercation.
CITY’S DEFICIENCIES COME TO THE FORE?
It is always difficult to top a season where a side wins the Championship as well as the Premiers plate, but after having signed longtime Socceroo Mathew Leckie to complement an already formidable core of seasoned A-League Men talent, one could be forgiven for questioning why City are not performing to the same lofty standards that they set last season.
Brought in as a replacement for dynamic wide player Craig Noone, Leckie punctuated a series of less than impressive cameos with an uncharacteristically sterile performance which lasted 68 minutes before he was replaced by Florin Berenguer.
Leckie’s inability to perform at his best appears to be an issue of compatibility within City’s specific setup which relies upon their wide players to hug the touch line and vacate space for the likes of Metcalfe, Tilio and Berenguer to make runs into the half-spaces so as to create chances.
Football fans across Australia will be hoping that Patrick Kisnorbo can inculcate and/or tweak his tactical approach to matches in a way that lends itself to Leckie’s unique skillset as his form could indeed dictate the Socceroos’ fate in imminent World Cup Qualifiers.
Constant attempts at overloading Perth’s robust unit from wide proved futile for the majority of the contest, leaving many fans frustrated at the inflexibility of Kisnorbo’s unit following such a successful season.
Despite the eventual victory, City fans will be hoping for some more fluidity and cohesiveness in future performances as they look to get themselves into top form before the Christmas Derby against Melbourne Victory on December 18.
A-League Men Round Four, AAMI Park
Melbourne City 1 (Nathaniel Atkinson 88m)
Perth Glory 0
Image Source: Melbourne City
HOW DID THE MANAGERS REACT?
Melbourne City: Patrick Kisnorbo
“I thought we were very good, we dominated the whole 90 minutes.”
“It was a great collective goal but it was great from Nathaniel [Atkinson] to get in those areas.”
Perth Glory: Richard Garcia
“It was a very gritty and gusty performance from a bunch of guys who were noticeably fatigued.”
“It’s a new group, a lot of young guys in there and [I’m] very pleased with the progress of the squad…we came here with a purpose, and the boys executed it very well.”