Roar go down fighting as City escape season opener with the three points

Melbourne City may have entered the 2021-22 A-League Men season as its prohibitive favourites but, as demonstrated by a travel-weary Brisbane Roar in their fighting 2-1 defeat in the season-opener on Friday evening, they’re not going to have it all their own way this season.

First-half goals to Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe proved enough for coach Patrick Kisnorbo’s side to get their premiership/championship defence off to a winning start at AAMI Park, even if they had to absorb some nervy moments as Luke Ivanovic, who scored in the 71st minute, inspired his side into a comeback attempt that was a VAR call away from being completed.

The Roar, conversely, might be heading back to Queensland with no points, but have sent a clear warning side to their hosts, and any other doubters, that their well-coached outfit that boasts a collection of some the league’s finest young talent will take some beating this year. 

Compounding the impressiveness of their performance, Queensland’s border restrictions meant that Roar only flew into Melbourne on the afternoon of the game and headed straight from AAMI Park to the airport at its conclusion. These circumstances were only revealed to the club on Tuesday after negotiations between Queensland authorities and the APL, and left their coach unable to hide his frustration.

City escaped with three points in their first game as defending champions
Image Credit: Melbourne City

“We’re disappointed. We’re disappointed with the challenges we faced coming here, especially with the travel arrangements the Queensland government and the APL put in place for us. It wasn’t easy,” said Warren Moon.

“And then playing the A-League Men champions is a test in of itself. I thought we were well set up in the first half, structurally, defensively sound. I don’t think they created too many chances. It was disappointing to down at halftime after two set-pieces where we allowed them to score.

“[The travel affected Roar] massively. It’s no shock that when the draw came out seven weeks ago, Brisbane Roar were asking questions of the league and the government and it wasn’t until Tuesday when we had a definitive answer for what we were doing.

“So I’m gobsmacked really. I don’t know what to say.

“Coming from the NPL, where we travel before the day because we know it’s best practice yet in the A-League Men against one of the best teams in the land we’re not arriving into Melbourne until three in the afternoon. I could have sat here and not said anything but… I really don’t know what to say about this”

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It wasn’t quite to the same monopolistic degree that they had done so against South Melbourne in their FFA Cup Round of 32 meeting the previous week but, regarding the game itself, City quickly seized the lion’s share of possession once referee Jonathan Barreiro commenced proceedings. Riding the emotions of kicking off the new season at home as the defending champions, as well as finally playing after a sparse pre-season, the side in light blue created a series of chances early; even if it took until the 26th minute for them to create one that one could describe as being gilt-edged. 

Turning his man with aplomb on the halfway line, Andrew Nabbout laced a perfectly weighted pass behind the Roar’s lines and into the path of Jamie Maclaren, who started his 150th A-League Men game after only flying back from international duty the day prior. Alas for City, the reigning golden boot winner could only put his shot wide of the goals.

A breakthrough, however, arrived in the 40th minute when a short corner routine from Kisnorbo’s crew dropped down onto the boot of Maclaren. His shot didn’t find the net, but it did find Good: who became the league’s unlikely first scorer when he fired past keeper Macklin Freke.

To that point, Brisbane had performed admirably in keeping their foes at bay; sitting back and soaking up their extended periods of possession and looking to hit on the counter — a plan heavily influenced by their whirlwind travel arrangements, Moon would concede — and when experiencing a stretch of the ball in City’s half, putting together some good looking exchanges that were asking questions of the City defence. 

Connor Metcalfe netted what would end up being the winning goal for City.
Image Credit: Melbourne City

The choice cuts of these arrived in the 31st minute when Corey Brown played Rahmat Akbari into enough time and space out on the left to allow the 21-year-old to slide a ball into Nikola Mileusnić inside the City penalty area. The speedster let loose with a shot that forced a sharp save from Tom Glover and promptly sparked a goalmouth scramble that the hosts had to desperately clear away. 

Auguring the potential benefits he will bring to Roar’s midfield, the play of Matti Steinmann in the build-up to that effort also merits recapping. Receiving the ball towards his own halfway line as his side looked to circulate it against City’s embedded defence, the newly-signed German ignored the easy instinct to play the ball sideways or backwards but, instead, shielded the ball from an advancing Florin Berenguer and found an avenue to play the ball forward. In doing so, he prevented City’s defence from moving forward in their press and ensured the space for Akabari to exploit remained. 

Alas for Roar, just minutes after Good put his side ahead they found their deficit doubled when a well-placed long ball forward from City captain Scott Jamieson found Metcalfe in a pocket of space at the edge of the penalty area. Defenders standing off or going with a runner to the midfielder’s right, Metcalfe eventually let loose with a shot that initially looked to be heading wide, but took a healthy touch off Anton Milinarić and nestled in the net. 

2020-21 looms as a significant year for Metcalfe. 22-years-of-age, a newly minuted Socceroo and Olympian and seemingly a nailed-on-starter for Kisnorbo, the youngster is in the last year of his contract in Casey; with a move to Europe increasingly looming not as a matter of if, but when. He was quite lucky to be credited with the goal based on replays but, combined with his promising flashes, recorded a solid start to intriguing months ahead. 

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Yet at the same time, Brisbane hadn’t played poorly to that point — anywhere near as much as the stat sheet would suggest — but thanks to a set-piece goal and a wicked deflection, the cold, unflinching record-book would only show that they went into the dressing rooms at halftime down 2-0. 

And to Moon’s significant credit, he was able to steady the ship and trust his side to get back into it. And following his move to his bench and the addition of Ivanović for Mileusnić, they were duly rewarded for their endeavour in the 71st minute when Jay O’Shea picked out the newly introduced youngsters in bags of space to head home and cut the deficit to one. 

Brisbane was finishing strong, and just three minutes later Ivanović got into the box and flashed a shot just wide of the posts. In the 80th minute they thought they had an equaliser, only for the linesperson to determine that Kai Trewin had strayed into an offside position before he headed an O’Shea free-kick into the net, with VAR subsequently backing the decision.  

“I haven’t seen it back, I’ve seen a couple of snapshots that were on the big screen,” Moon said post-game.

“I’m really confused as to why, when it’s so tight and it’s such a line-ball decision, why the linesman flagged for it and I believe once that happens then the decision could be different.”

The air was thick and nerves were fraying, and Roar again thought they’d done enough to steal a point at the death when the ball fell to Jess Daley with space in the area, only for his shot to slide just wide of the post; City escaping with the three points.

“To be honest, second half we weren’t great at all,” said Kisnorbo. “I think we’ll… we’ll have to look at it again but I’m not happy with the second half.

“First half, we did some good things but we’ve got to look over the game, the second wasn’t great so we need to work at that and address that on Monday.

“I think our pressure on the ball was slow. We started becoming negative, too slow with the ball. Our positioning was wrong. There’s a lot of factors in that. We’ll look at the video tonight, some of the boys will be in tomorrow and we’ll work on what to do with that on Monday.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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