Atkinson secures blunt Melbourne City a late 1-0 win over Perth Glory

Nathaniel Atkinson has saved Melbourne City the blushes of an early-season three-game winless run after heading home an 88th-minute sealer against Perth Glory on Wednesday evening.

Thrown into the contest as a 79th-minute substitute, Atkinson — who has been rarely sighted thus far in 2021-22 — was in the right place to meet Connor Metcalfe’s looping header to the back post for the game’s defining moment; the Tasmanian scoring his first goal of the season and sending his side, at least for now, second on the A-League Men table.

It came not a moment too soon for the defending Premiers and Champions, who up to that point had looked all but set to be held goalless for the second straight game by Glory.

Four days after being turned away by Western United in a 1-0 defeat, coach Patrick Kisnorbo’s unit appeared unable to find their way through the sea of purple shirts that consistently lined the road at AAMI Park; their best previous chance prior to the goal delivered by a late set-piece when Curtis Good rose to meet a Marco Tilio corner that young goalkeeper Cameron Cook was just able to palm onto the bar.

“I think it’s more of a collective, it was a great ball from Curtis [who found Metcalfe], great header by Connor and Nathaniel is in the right spot at the right time,” remarked Kisnorbo post-match.

“I think it was a great collective goal but it’s also great for Nathaniel to be in those areas and again the impact he showed when he came on – I was very happy with him”

Andrew Nabbout had earlier in the game had a cross hammer off the knees of Glory defender Kosuke Ota and into the back of the net in the just 13th minute, only for the VAR to adjudicate that he had commenced his storming run into the box after being found in an offside position.

Gifted a second chance to batten down the hatches, Glory increasingly sat deep and defended with a sheer weight of numbers inside the penalty area following that attempt, meaning City was often forced into long bouts of recycling possession before, eventually, settling for a speculative cross or ball that was cleared away by the Glory defence. When shots did eventuate, they were rarely of the velocity or direction that would trouble Cook.

The same held true for the moments of transition that would eventuate when the hosts were able to spring their press and trap the Glory near the halfway line (a not uncommon occurrence in the opening 45); unable to click into gear and combine in a manner that created the breakthrough as they looked to burst in behind.

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“Very, very pleased [with the defensive display],” Garcia said post-game, his side having taken a 3-0 win and two 1-0 losses from their three-game Melbourne road trip. “It was a very gritty, gutsy performance from a bunch of guys that were noticeably fatigued but they dug in for each other and that just reflects would a good solid unit they are and what a good team they are.

“You talk about fatigue and concentration at times. One moment in a game can cost you.

“They can have all the ball they want, the chances they created were, for me, were not fantastic ones. We came here with a purpose and the boys executed it very well.”

Indeed, the most fireworks the contest produced until its late flurry was delivered by the two side’s captains in the 51st minute; Glory’s Bruno Fornaroli taking exception with Scott Jamieson’s feedback to Antonee Burke-Gilroy following a foul by the latter — grabbing his counterpart by the scruff of his collar and instigating a fracas that would result in both men being booked.

Nonetheless, concerningly for City, the late burst of life from their attack came after the withdrawal of Nabbout and Mat Leckie to the substitutes bench and their replacement with Atkinson and Florin Berenguer — Tilio shifting out to the left week to allow the Frenchman to play as a ten. The side’s vaunted front three of Nabbout, Leckie and Jamie Maclaren have now combined for just two goals in the opening four games of the campaign, both in the 2-2 draw with Adelaide United.

Conversely, Berenguer’s arrival, days after his departure had robbed City of an edge against Western, provided a spark that gave his side new life; giving Kisnorbo something to think about as Italian signing Manuel Pucciarelli gains full fitness.

“It takes time,” Kisnorbo, who had defended his front three’s slow start to the season ahead of the game, remarked on the play of his Socceroo front three.

“Sometimes things happen and sometimes things don’t but you keep working and eventually things happen but again they’ve done a great job

“We take [Perth sitting deep] as a compliment

“When there are eleven players behind the ball within the radius of 30 yards from goal. I think that’s saying something about the way we play

“Again, it’s going to be hard. I’m not saying it’s not and every team plays different but I look at it as a positive. We are not going to win every game 20-0. That’s reality,

“We will play our way and that’s all I will worry about.

“I’ve said this before, we won’t change. We will play the style that we play and sometimes it’s rewarding and sometimes, like last week, it doesn’t happen. We won’t deviate from our style”

Three points in hand, City will now have a ten-day break before facing Melbourne Victory in the traditional Christmas Derby, which was lost last season due to its COVID-delayed commencement.

Glory, also with a ten-day break before their next game against Brisbane, will move to exit Victoria and head to South Australia as soon as possible; hoping to do what they can to allow them to return home to West Australia for Christmas – even if that is at this point still a complete unknown.

“Mate, it changes every day, said Garcia. “It’s a difficult one.

“If I’m being totally honest, it’s a hard one to take because you have different scenarios every day.

But look we’re hoping to get home for Christmas, whether that be in quarantine; which is something we’ll more than likely have to do. But I think people would just like to get home and see their families.”

Garcia indicated that Daniel Sturridge would see limited minutes against Brisbane, while he hoped that Brandon O’Neill and Andy Keough would be able to return to the squad for their fixture against Adelaide United on December 23.

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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