Melbourne City throw down ALM gauntlet with 4-0 thrashing of Sydney FC

Melbourne City has ratcheted up the pressure on Western United in the race for the Premiers’ Plate, heaped pressure on Sydney FC and sounded another ominous tone for the rest of the A-League Men after downing the Sky Blues 4-0 on Wednesday evening. 

Placed in the ascendency by a Jordy Bos thunderbolt in the 26th minute, the defending champions put the visitors to AAMI Park to the sword in the second stanza: Mat Leckie netting sandwiching goals in the 55th and 72nd minutes around Jamie Maclaren’s effort in the 70th. 

A rematch of the 2020-21 A-League Men Grand Final, it was an explosion of offence that carried the hallmarks of City’s dominating run to the double of that campaign in which they could frequently find another gear to blow their foes away and put the game to bed in a sudden, lethal display of attacking intent. 

Perhaps the only thing that prevented the win from being greater was Kisnorbo’s move to withdraw Florin Berenguer and Leckie in the aftermath of the latter’s sweetly hit second, one eye potentially on an Asian Champions League affected fixture that will see his side play eight games in the span of 24 days. 

Success on the continent a long-standing goal of the club, City’s form – the thrashing of Sydney coming off the back of a 6-0 drubbing of Wellington Phoenix on the weekend – and resourcing would suggest that they have what it takes to be an A-Leagues side that threatens the ACL for the first time since Western Sydney Wanderers won the competition in 2014. 

Wednesday’s win sees Kisnorbo’s side stretch their unbeaten run of league form to eleven games and, reinforcing the passing of the torch that appears to have taken place between the Sydney dynasty and the new, fledgling City empire, extended their undefeated run against the Sky Blues to five games – four wins and a draw. 

Although it must carry the disclaimer that their Victorian rivals possess three games in hand, Wednesday’s win stretches City’s lead over United atop the ALM table to eight points, with their next opportunity to stretch this lead coming on Saturday when they clash with Melbourne Victory in the season’s last Melbourne Derby. 

For sixth-placed Sydney, however, their clash with unbeaten in seven Central Coast Mariners on Saturday has suddenly become a six-pointer after their capitulation against the Citizens. 

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Having played more games than any other of their rivals in the race for the top-six – three more than the seventh-placed Phoenix and eighth-placed Mariners – the Harboursiders retain just a two-point buffer on the sides that sit directly below them on the ALM table and, like City, will also have to contend with an ACL affected schedule in the weeks ahead. 

They will also be forced to sweat on the fitness of James Donachie after the defender was an enforced substitute in Wednesday’s loss, while City will need to monitor the fitness of Aiden O’Neill in the first half. 

Despite being ceded the lion’s share of possession by the visitors, it took until the Bos’ goal in the 26th minute for City to create any chances of note – but the 19-year-old certainly tried to make it worth the wait. 

Positioning himself outside the Sydney penalty area as Berenguer swung in a corner, the young defender was in the perfect position to meet a clearing header with a sweetly struck, left-footed effort that caught the ball flush on the bounce, skidded through a wall of defenders and buried itself in the bottom corner of the net. 

An opportunity to double the advantage would follow in the 34th minute from another Berenguer corner but on this occasion, Andrew Nabbout was unable to direct his header away from Tom Heward-Belle. 

Sydney began to show nascent signs of life up the other end as the half progressed, Donachie bouncing a header off the post from an Anthony Caceres’ corner in the 38th, but it counted for little as City entered halftime a goal to the good.

That state, however, would only last ten minutes into the second half when Leckie met a dinked cross to the back post with a header that careened off Heward-Belle and into the net, VAR overturning the assistant’s initial ruling that Nabbout had carried the ball out of play to award City the goal. 

Another looping cross from Nabbout almost led to another goal in the 66th minute but on this occasion, Jamie Maclaren’s close-range attempt to turn Leckie’s knocked down header could only find the post. 

But Maclaren wouldn’t be denied four minutes later – not that you’d expect him to miss opportunities of such a gilt-edged variety – when he was sprung through one-on-one with Heward-Belle by Tilio and netted his league-leading 14th goal of the season. 

Just two minutes later Leckie added the pièce de résistance when he seized upon a ball ping-ponging around the midfield following a City goal kicking and, judging the bounce of the ball as he carried it forward, drove a piledriver of an effort into the Sydney net. 

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