Drama reigns as Melbourne City return to top of ALM

Melbourne City has, temporarily at least, gone back to the top of the A-League Men table after recording a 3-2 win over Central Coast Mariners on Tuesday evening, although it wasn’t a triumph without its controversies.

Down 1-0 after Béni Nkololo had put the Mariners ahead, City was able to drag the game back to one goal apiece at the first half break after referee Shaun Evans determined that Marco Tilio had been infringed by Kye Rowles just inside the penalty area and awarded a penalty that was duly dispatched by Jamie Maclaren. 

Despite initial impressions being that the Socceroos defender had brought down his international teammate well outside the area, VAR upheld the decision and left the Mariners steaming. 

Then, with the game finely poised at 3-2 with less than five minutes remaining after goals from Florin Berenguer, Oliver Bozanic and Marco Tilio; Mat Leckie looked to have given away a stone-cold penalty when he brought down Lewis Miller in the penalty area. 

But with play-on initially given, it was left to the VAR to bring the play back for what would have seemed an easy decision, only this time it was judged that there was not enough evidence to overturn Evans’ initial decision and give the Mariners a chance to level from the spot. 

Now winless in their last five league outings, the Mariners once again found themselves haunted by the last five minutes of a game and dropped to second-bottom of the ALM table on goal difference. The Gosford-based side will now look to rebound away to Adelaide United on Saturday. 

City will be back in action on Saturday when they travel to New South Wales to take on Sydney FC. 

Also top of the ALM table once again – at least until Western United play Sydney FC on Wednesday evening – the hosts started the game the stronger of the two sides: having the game’s first real shot in anger in the ninth minute of play when Berenguer drove into the penalty area and flashed a shot over the crossbar. 

Combination play between Tilio, Berenguer and Maclaren then teed up the former to put a shot wide in the 15th, before some desperate last-ditch defending from Jacob Farrell enabled him to slid in and stop Maclaren sending in a shot after being picked out by Leckie in the 24th. 

One of the Mariners best, which has increasingly become as per this season, Farrell was then on hand to help produce his side’s first shot of the game just before the half an hour mark when he skipped beyond Leckie and teed up Moresche for a shot that went over the crossbar. 

Both sides engaging in a somewhat passive game of chess as the first half progressed, City would have back-to-back chances through Andrew Nabbout and Tilio in the 37th and 38th minute – only for the game to then spring to dramatic life. 

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With just seconds remaining in regulation, Rowles collected the ball in his own half and, feeling the heat from the City press, hoofed a long ball forward in the direction of Nkololo. 

Bringing the ball down with a deft touch, the Frenchman then cut inside, leaving Nuno Reis in his wake, and danced past Curtis Good with a smooth stepover to find win enough space to fire off a shot from outside the box that, although Tom Glover was able to get a hand on it, sailed in. 

Looking to answer back in the seconds before halftime, Tilio then carried the ball forward and was brought down by Rowles to kickstart the controversy. 

Stepping up to take it, Maclaren made no mistake in sending it down the middle to even things back up heading into the sheds. 

And any hurt feelings on the part of the Mariners’ faithful were only exacerbated in the 57th minute when, after an extended period of possession in the Mariners half, Berenguer played a one-two with Aiden O’Neill to get into the penalty area. 

Exquisitely chesting down a pass that was ever so slightly behind him, City’s metronome in attack subsequently placed a half-volleyed shot beyond Mark Birighitti from close-range to put City ahead.

The Mariners’ self-appointed maxim being never back down, though, coach Nick Montgomery’s side came back and returned the game to an equilibrium less than ten minutes later through Oliver Bozanic, onside by the thinnest of margins, after he fired home a ball delivered to him in acres of space at the back post by Farrell. 

But for all the fight that the visitors were able to put up, Tuesday evening was still a battle of the haves and the have-nots, the most well-resourced side in the league coming up against its perennially underfunded underdog. 

Such disparities are obvious in matters such as facilities and extra staff, but also in recruitment – as City’s 74th minute goal demonstrated. 

Seizing on a turnover forced by Leckie’s press, Berenguer quickly moved the ball forward to Maclaren, who in turn played a first time ball in towards the feet of a still on-rushing Leckie. Showing his class the Socceroos attacker would allow the ball to roll through his feet and into the path of a waiting Tilio – who promptly stroked a shot into the bottom corner of the net to make it 3-2. 

And when Miller, who was forced off with an apparent injury following the collision, wasn’t determined to have been fouled by either Evans or the VAR, the Mariners’ bad night was complete. 

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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