“They’re the benchmark. And they should be” – 15-minutes of pain secure City comfortable win over Macarthur

Melbourne City: 3 (Jamie Maclaren – 23’ + 25’, Craig Noone – 35’)
Macarthur FC: 0

As Craig Noone cut inside and sent Mark Milligan to the shops with a dummied shot before depositing a curling effort inside the far post to make it 3-0, the message for the rest of the A-League couldn’t have been more clear.

Melbourne City is a genuine contender for the 2020-21 A-League title. 

Coach Patrick Kisnorbo’s side was ruthless in their pressing, running and effort on their way to a 3-0 win over Macarthur FC on Friday evening; replacing the Bulls in second-position on the A-League table with the win and moving to within six-points of league-leading Central Coast Mariners – who they play next. 

“A team with that hunger to score, to win, their fitness, their mobility, their rotations, I’d say it’s difficult for most teams in the A-League to keep up with that,” Macarthur FC coach Ante Miličić said post-game.

“They’re the benchmark. And they should be.

“To be perfectly honest, with no disrespect to every other team in the A-League, but the way I analysed the upcoming opponent and I see Melbourne City, particularly their last three games, we knew that this would be a difficult game for us. And it proved to be just that.”

Entering the contest off the heels of wins over Sydney FC and Macarthur FC and a 6-0 shellacking of Melbourne Victory, City’s form did indeed loom ominously over Macarthur, who had suffered a 2-0 defeat against Central Coast Mariners mid-week. 

Yet even the club’s most one-eyed of supporters would have been hard-pressed to envision the dominating, 15-minute display that their side produced in the opening half that put them up 3-0 and effectively killed the game off by half time. 

Drawing first blood, Nathaniel Atkinson and Andrew Nabbout combined fluidly on the right to spring Atkinson into space and allow the right-back to dink a ball onto the head of Jamie Maclaren in the 23rd minute. 

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Two minutes later, City captain Scott Jamieson’s perfectly weighted pass through the Bulls’ lines enabled Nabbout, now on the left, to run collect the ball in stride and in space, cut inside and lay off a low cross that Maclaren, on his second attempt after his first was blocked by Antony Golec, fired home. 

A glancing Maclaren volley in the 34th minute almost gave him an 11-minute hat-trick, only for Noone to officially make it three a minute later with his message-sending strike. Having to settle for a three-minute brace, the Socceroos striker now has ten goals in ten games this season. 

Involved in all three of his side’s goals on the evening, Maclaren’s fellow Socceroo Nabbout’s pace and power proved a constant nuisance whenever the ball entered his vicinity at AAMI Park; the win extending City’s 100% winning record in games that the attacker has been involved in 2020-21. 

“When we conceded that first one, I think that took a little bit out of us and then to concede the second one immediately, 2-0, it became too much for us,” Miličić said.

“We got punished a lot at the start of the game in transition, giving it away, particularly in our back third with their speed and their movement. We couldn’t deal with it and in the end congratulations to Melbourne City, they were by far the better team on the night. 

“Physically, they’re at a different level than us. You see the speed that they have all around the field. Their repeat efforts. 

“They were confident and playing at home, we came up against a very good side that’s at the top of their game and on the night we couldn’t match them and there are not complaints.”

2018 World Cup representative Nabbout could have even had four score involvements on the evening had Connor Metcalfe, played into the byline by the 28-year-old, been able to take a little pace off his cross bound for the head of teammate Florin Berenguer in the 73rd minute. 

In the end, the Frenchman was possibly lucky to avoid a concussion as the ball careened off his head and out for a goal kick. 

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For Macarthur, their second defeat on the bounce sees the club officially drop to third on the A-League table but, due to the compact nature of the competition in 2020-21, they could find themselves as low as seventh by the end of the weekend. 

Miličić’s side, whose best chance on Friday was a half-chance, at best, to Denis Genreau in the 79th minute, will now sort to re-group before they play host to Western United – who downed their fellow A-League newcomers 4-1 in Ballarat on February 20 – in eight days time. 

For Kisnorbo’s group, there will be no chance for them to rest on their laurels. Speaking after the game, the City gaffer – resisting, as has become his habit this season, to even entertain the notion of taking a moment’s pleasure from his side’s performance – said that the work would continue. 

And there will definitely be no consideration paid towards being the A-League’s benchmark. 

“I thought we were ok in the first half and then in the second half, we dropped away a bit. We became too transitional for my liking,” said Kisnorbo. “But the players managed that situation as the second half went along. So, a good first half but we can improve the second half.

“We go about the way that we want to do things in our style and the way we want to play is the way we want to play. We’re no benchmark at all, we’re just a team that wants to play a certain way, has got processes to do that and we try to improve week in and week out in training. 

“The players will be training on Monday. There will be no rest. Four wins is nothing. It’s our job. 

“They’ll be training hard on Monday. So there’s no point in getting carried away.”

Unavoidable in discussions of Friday’s contest, though, was the ongoing discontent and confusion surrounding the treatment of A-League active supporters compared to those of rival codes. 

The tarpaulin that had been absent for the previous night’s contest between NRL sides Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs returned to the behind-the-goals section of the South End for the evening – preventing City’s active support from congregating in their preferred haunt. 

The supporters – ‘The City Terrace’ – instead relocated to a corner of the ground for the contest; taking advantage of their newly granted ability to wave flags and beat drums as they (in a mostly seated manner) celebrated their side’s win. 

Melbourne City: 1. Tom Glover, 3. Scott Jamieson, 4. Nuno Reis, 7. Rostyn Griffiths, 9. Jamie Maclaren, 10. Florin Berenguer, 11. Craig Noone, 13. Nathaniel Atkinson, 15. Andrew Nabbout, 18. Connor Metcalfe, 22. Curtis Good

Subs: 33. Matthew Sutton, 2. Scott Galloway, 14. Naoki Tsubaki, 17. Stefan Colakovski, 19. Benjamin Garuccio, 23. Marco Tilio, 43. Alec Mills 

Coach: Patrick Kisbnorbo 

Macarthur FC: 1. Adam Federici, 3. Antony Golec, 4. Beñat Etxebarria, 5. Mark Milligan, 7. Ivan Franjic, 8. Denis Genreau, 11. Thomas Oar, 15. Aleks Susnjar, 19. Michael Ruhs, 27. Matthew Derbyshire, 33. Markel Susaeta
Subs: 20. Ryan Wood, 6. Aleksander Jovanovic, 10. Loic Puyo, 21. Jake Hollman, 23. Walter Scott, 29. Antonis Martis, 31. Lachlan Rose
Coach: Ante Miličić

Referee: Alex King
VAR: Kris Griffiths-Jones

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