Melbourne City, eventually, shut the door on Brisbane Roar

On a points-per-game basis, the Mother’s Day meeting between Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar represented a clash between first and second on the A-League table – a potential A-League Grand Final preview. 

An unlikely three points secured at AAMI Park would have seen Brisbane Roar’s position on the real-world ladder match their theoretical points-per-game one and extended their run of games without defeat to eight games. In red hot-form, possessing the individual difference makers and a tactical flexibility born from solid coaching, an opening was there to pierce City’s armour.

But at the end of City’s 3-2 win – the league-leaders now nine-points clear at the summit – the task facing down any potential challenger seeking to upset their killbots pursuit of a maiden A-League Premiership were laid bare.

Fed by a sublimely paced through ball from Craig Noone, young flyer Connor Metcalfe put City ahead in the 14th minute with an effort driven into the bottom corner of the net, before the youngster – collecting a ball that came off the hand of Noone that should have been called back – laced a pass into the path of an onrushing Scott Jamieson three minutes later. 

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The City captain’s subsequent attempt at a cutback then bounced off the heel of defender Kai Trewin to make it 2-0. 

“I saw it clear as day,” Roar coach Warren Moon said post-match. “I asked the fourth official, so I knew that the hand was involved. So I’m really unsure of the ruling. 

“I think there may have been an interpretation from the fourth official about the phase of play, maybe it moved onto another phase. I’m not sure, that’s the honest answer. I don’t know.”

The strikes were two of a cacophony of chances produced by stand-in coach Des Buckingham’s side in the first half: Metcalfe, Scott Galloway, Nuno Reis, Jamieson, Jamie Maclaren, Aiden O’Neill, and Marco Tilio all producing chances, some of them on multiple occasions, that on another day would have found the back of the net. 

By the end of the 45 minutes, City had produced 18 shots on goal compared to the visitors three – good for a 1.80 to 0.33 difference on the expected goals (xG) scoreboard. They had hit the frame of the goals on three occasions. 

“Obviously we didn’t start the game as we’d like,” said Moon. We didn’t know how we would react after the game on Wednesday. It was probably clear it took us a bit to get going in the legs. And yes, we rode our luck at times.”

But the funny thing was, the actual scoreboard read Melbourne City 2-2 Brisbane Roar. 

Collecting the ball in the 28th minute Joseph Champness carried the ball into the middle of the pitch and directed an inch-perfect that slid, teasingly, beyond a despairing glove off Tom Glover, off the inside of the far post and, finally, into the back of the net. 

2-1. 

The ball, somehow, falling to him amid a sea of light blue shirts, Macaulay Gillesphey perfectly placed a header – the defender turning his entire body a full 90 degrees in almost a split second to ensure a proper direction – beyond Glover. 

2-2. 

Dogged and determined, Roar were hanging around in a game they really had no right to be in and, despite the deluge, had limited City to just four shots on target across the first half – finding a way to somehow not be blown out of the water like so many sides had been when visiting AAMI Park. 

“We showed great character and resilience as a group and found a way to be level at halftime,” said Moon.  

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And aside from chances from Maclaren in the  48th and 62nd minutes, the second stanza began in a manner that suggested Roar had taken the momentum out of the avalanche that had bared down on them. 

Opportunities were still arising, but they weren’t arriving with the same ominous air that they had once carried, and the Roar even had a chance to steal an unlikely lead in the 72nd minute when former Melbourne Heart attacker Golgol Mebrahtu forced Glover into action. 

But at the same time, occasions to score up the other end weren’t plentiful either, and the substitution of Champness early on in the second half – a fixture pileup in the coming weeks meaning that Moon couldn’t play his key attacking contributors a full 90 minutes even if he wanted to – did little to aid in the production of any. 

Thus, when Scott Galloway drove forward from his position at right-back and, after his attempt at a cross was blocked back, thundered a left-footed volley between Young and his near post, the window to get anything from the game appeared to have been slammed shut. 

“We spoke about what we needed to address [around] the momentum and the balance of the game [at half time],” said Moon. “I thought we did that in the second half. We did it well enough without ever really throwing a punch. 

“Had some chances and… look, we’re disappointed with the third goal. We can put it down to fatigue but we don’t want to make excuses. We need to be better and we’re just disappointed with the way we conceded that third goal.”

Brisbane had fought but, with the game representing one of eight they will play in May, City took advantage of Moon’s attempts to manage his squad to pounce and secure their fourth win in five games.

And therein lies the problem that any and every side facing City throughout the rest of the season, before they are stripped of a number of Socceroos during finals at least, will be forced to solve. 

With fixtures piling up, not only do the now runaway league leaders possess arguably the best collection of individual talent in the A-League, but they also represent its fittest side and one if its most carefully constructed sides. 

If there internationals don’t get you, their cardio will.

The City “process” drilled into them again and again by Patrick Kisnorbo and with over half a season to mesh, the club believes that their famed underbelly of mental fragility is also a thing of the past.

“They’re the type of games maybe last year that we wouldn’t have got results from – going two up and then coming back to 2-2,” Buckingham said. 

“To see that kind of mental side from the team: to be able to go on and then win it again. They’re the things that will allow us to continue to hopefully pick up results that get us closer to where we want to be. 

 “We’ve tried to turn [the club’s process] into behaviour from the start of a season. The true test of if it’s behaviour is when it gets tested. Tonight we were tested in that the same way we have been a couple of times. 

“If it’s a true behaviour and the individuals stand up to that then they stick true it. If it’s not and it’s just words on paper it just falls over. 

“The pleasing thing is when it does get tested, as it has again this evening, every single player stood up and not just stood up but allowed us to continue through and pick up a result.”

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