City down Wanderers 4-1 to throw down an A-League gauntlet

Melbourne City: 4 (Craig Noone ’33 & ’35 – Andrew Nabbout ’52 – Jamie Maclaren ’92)
Western Sydney Wanderers: 1 (Bernie Ibini ’21)

Central Coast Mariners’ boss Alen Stajcic may have bristled at suggestions that Melbourne City was the A-League’s current benchmark after they downed his side on Monday but, for the neutral observer, City’s follow-up 4-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers should leave little doubt. 

Powered by Craig Noone’s two goals and single assist – his first goal a cheekily taken, quick free-kick delivered at a moment when his side desperately a spark – City gave yet another clear demonstration on Friday evening at AAMI Park of the distance between themselves and another potential title challenger. 

They were too big, too strong, too powerful, too fast, too lethal, and too good.

“We did show… relentlessness, ruthlessness at times,” City coach Patrick Kisnorbo said. “I was pleased with the relentlessness that we showed and being rutheless when we needed to be.

“Time will tell [if his side is where they need to be] at the end of the season, it doesn’t tell now. We’ll take it one game at a time, we’ll start preparing for Western United on Thursday, which is going to be another tough game.”

After initially looking like they may be capable of staging a smash-and-grab road performance, coach Carl Robinson’s side fell away as the second stanza continued; the change in the game’s tempo resulting from City hitting the front through Andrew Nabbout in the 52nd meaning that, from that point, only one side was winning. 

“I think we were beaten by the better team,” Robinson said following the game. “I thought Melbourne was very good and I thought we were very bad. That’s not a good combination when you’re playing a team that’s in form.

“Sometimes you have to accept it when you’re not at the races or you’re not playing to your levels, we didn’t play to our levels today, they obviously did, and they got the three points.

“I think we should glimpses, this season I think we’ve showed glimpses of being a good team and other times we’ve gone away from doing what we’re trying to build here and from the first few minutes I know they’re going to put you under pressure at certain times because they’re a good team.

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“When you get your noses in front then it’s important you get to halftime and that’s the frustrating thing, we were unable to get to half time because of a free kick – if it was or it wasn’t – and a wonderful finish.”

Winners of six on the bounce, City has now set a club record for consecutive wins, while talismanic striker Jamie Maclaren, who just snuck his goal in the 92nd minute, has now bettered Ross McCormack’s club record for consecutive games with a goal with six. 

After an initial slow start to the season, the side from Bundoora now sits second on the A-Leauge table and ominously loom, with a game in hand, a single point behind table-topping Central Coast. Conversely, the three-goal loss sees Wanderers fall to fourth on the table on goal difference and snaps a three-game winning streak that the side from Bankwest Stadium entered Friday night with.

Indeed, they may have been second at the time, but Western Sydney appeared to enter the contest with full appreciation that they were on the road against the A-League’s most in-form side: reflected in the manner in which Robinson had them set up. 

Establishing a strong defensive structure and working diligently to not allow City’s dangerous wingers Noone and Nabbout to blow past them or get in behind, the Wanderers looked to punish their foes in transition – ending the first half outshot 15-4 and having seen the ball only 38% of the time. 

Against a City side that can be so devastating when it’s allowed to press high to force turnovers and get out into space, it proved a shrewd first half approach as City ended the opening stanza having been forced to settle for challenging shots and chances from set-pieces. 

By necessity, such an approach also demands significant lethality from the front men to turn their scant opportunities into goals, but that’s what Ibnini 21st minute when he soared over the top of marker Scott Jamieson and headed home a Mitch Duke cross. 

And with City controlling the ball but unable to create a clear chance, it appeared as though the visitors had figured out how to slow down the runaway freight train they had been confronted with – only for Noone’s moment of cheeky brilliance in the 33rd minute to tie things up again. 

“I think it showed a lot of character,” City’s coach said on comeback. “Western Sydney set up really well, they made it difficult at times and going a goal behind – we knew that we had to try and break down a very good team.”

The decision to award the free-kick was not without controversy, with Fox Sports reporting that the Wanderers bench accused Maclaren of “cheating” to win the set-piece. 

“I don’t know what Craig Noone and the referee have agreed, I don’t think you’ve seen a goal like that for many many years in football, because I think you’re under the impression that you have to wait for the whistle or something like that,” Robinson said.

“It’s a wonderful finish. We should be switched on. Let’s not take away anything from the goal because that’s what you want to see – good goals.

“I don’t think it’s a free kick. If you look at the free kick, if it’s a free kick for a push from Ziggy Gordon on the player the players will go [in the same direction] but my player [went in a different directon]. So no, it’s not a free kick.

“But two minutes earlier there was another incident of a non-free kick as well which annoyed me a little more. And it was two or three in a row.

“It was a great finish by the boy but we should have been switched on. If we stand on the ball, and he kicks it against us does [the referee] give us a yellow card? There’s so many [angles to it].”

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The incident also led to a war of words between Robinson and Kisnorbo, but the Welshman downplayed the exchange.

“I think there’s difference off views, differences of opinions that you have as coaches,” he said. “It happens on the pitch, sometimes it happens. We’re both passionate and strong-minded people.

“When you’re new to management you have your own ideas and that lot. So, there are no problems.”

Nonetheless, regardless of the veracity of the goal, it counted and the host’s tails were up. 

Keeping up the pressure as the second stanza began, they were duly rewarded with the lead in the 52nd and Noone was again heavily involved. 

Driving towards the penalty area from the left flank, the 33-year-old won a yard of space from marker Tate Russell before firing in a cross that found an advancing Andrew Nabbout at the back post to chest home for the lead and his first goal at the club.  

Suddenly facing a deficit for the first time, the landscape facing the Wanderers in the contest had shifted: they would now be forced to seize the initiative and chase the game if they wanted to take something back with them to Sydney. 

But unfortunately for the side in Black and Gold, such an approach also opened the door for City’s most potent qualities to show. 

Unable to play through City in the 55th minute, Dylan McGowan’s resulting attempt to loft a ball out from defence was picked out by Nathaniel Atkinson, who promptly played a cross-field pass to Noone. 

Suddenly benefiting from acres of space as a result of Russel – now moving forward up the pitch in search of a leveller – getting caught in transition, the Englishman grabbed his second goal of the game and made it 3-1. 

Four minutes later, City broke in transition again – Nabbout flattening Mark Natta in the build-up in an incident that forced the youngster from the field – and left the Wanderers’ defence at sixes and sevens before putting the ball into the net off the boot of Adrian Luna – only for a Noone’s offside kneecap in the build-up to cause play to be pulled back. 

“They scored two goals, the fourth I think he was offside but more importantly my player has a got a cut on his eye and he’s got a concussion – which is why I think the referee should have stopped the game immediately,” Robinson said.

“Any head injury, you’ve got to take this stuff seriously now. 

“[Natta has got] concussion, a head injury, which is why he didn’t move for the 35-40 seconds when the goal was scored. And then he was taken off.

“Just deal with it, deal with the head injury, end of, but it didn’t happen.” 

Luna had another golden chance to make it 4-1 in the 70th minute, only for his close-range header to go wide as he was pressured by Nicolai Muller. 

Eventually, it was Maclaren that provided the cherry on the sundae when he collected a loose ball inside the penalty area and lifted a shot into the roof of the net.

Melbourne City: 1. Tom Glover (GK) 3. Scott Jamieson, 7. Rostyn Griffiths, 9. Jamie Maclaren, 10. Florin Berenguer, 11. Craig Noone, 13. Nathaniel Atkinson, 15. Andrew Nabbout, 18. Connor Metcalfe, 20. Adrian Luna, 22. Curtis Good
Substitutes: 33. Matthew Sutton, 2. Scott Galloway, 14. Naoki Tsubaki, 16. Taras Gomulka, 23. Marco Tilio, 36. Kerrin Stokes
Patrick Kisnorbo

Western Sydney Wanderers:
30. Daniel Margush (GK), 2. Ziggy Gordon, 4. Dylan McGowan, 9. Bernie Ibini, 12. Mitch Duke, 13. Tate Russell, 14. James Troisi, 17. Keanu Baccus, 18. Graham Dorrans, 29. Daniel Wilmering, 33. Mark Natta
Substitutes: 40. Noah James, 7. Bruce Kamau, 10. Simon Cox, 11. Kwame Yeboah, 19. Jordon Mutch, 27. Nicolai Muller, 39. Thomas Aquilina
Coach: Carl Robinson 

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