It was a game that we couldn’t afford to lose after our FFA Cup Final loss and the City boys put in a spectacular effort to hold on for the crucial three points over Western United despite being a man down for a third of the match.
It was Denis Genreau who provided the creative spark for the first goal, lofting a beautiful pass over the top of the United defence for Jamie Maclaren, who did well to chest the ball down and put the ball into the back of the net.
Harrison Delbridge was extremely hard done by to have received a second yellow in the 63rd minute when he made a sliding effort to prevent Besart Berisha from having a shot on goal, with his elbow unfortunately – and completely unintentionally – making contact with the ball as he slid through. For the referee to have awarded a penalty in the first place (what else is he supposed to do with his arm?) was remarkable enough, but to produce a second yellow and give Delbridge his marching orders was extraordinary.
Of course, it could only be Berisha who stepped up and dispatched the penalty – his 14th goal against us in 21 games.
Alas, it was a moment of brilliance from JMac that saved us in the 85th minute when he ran on to a lobbed through-ball by Josh Brillante and produced a spectacular first-time finish to beat Filip Kurto. The Pole’s sweeper-keeper tactics had been effective all afternoon, but were finally exposed when he’d initially come out to deal with the pass, but was ultimately caught in no man's land and couldn’t position himself to make the save.
It was a massive result which will no doubt mean a lot to the players and fans. On a day where our boys stood up and showed the resilience to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss, here are three things we learned on Sunday night:
Brillante can do it both ways
Far out, he’s quite the player isn’t he?
It feels as though Brillante has slightly flown under the radar throughout most of the preseason, quietly getting the job done as we’d expect of him. Sunday night, however, he showed a side of his game that really wasn’t expected.
Paired alongside Rostyn Griffiths, Brillante had the license to drift forward slightly and contribute more often to the attacking buildup, but it was surprising just how often he’d slip in behind United’s backline or aggressively drive towards goal past defenders and create opportunities.
Whilst we doubt he’ll be playing higher up the field any time soon, it was certainly a pleasant surprise and suggests we’ve got a greater level of versatility in our midfield than we may have expected.
Speaking of which…
Rostyn Griffiths – The key to midfield balance?
Connor Metcalfe’s been great throughout the preseason and has performed well enough in the opening two rounds as well. His errant pass may have lead to the Western United equaliser, but he needs to be given a bit of leeway with mistakes for a little while as he continues to find his feet.
However, a trend of the opening two rounds has been how easily our opposition have been able to cut through our midfield in transition, leaving our backline slightly exposed as the ball comes in.
The inclusion of Rostyn Griffiths has seen a well-structured, defensively-solid midfield which is more equipped to break opposition attacking buildups, whilst also giving Brillante an opportunity to progress up the field when City are in possession.
As has been said previously on the podcast, he occasionally seems like a red card waiting to happen (especially having committed three poor fouls in a five minute period early on yesterday) but it’ll be interesting to see whether he’s preferred to Metcalfe long-term, and whether the youngster can challenge for the third, more-advanced midfield spot if that does occur.
We need more from our wingers
We’re not in a crisis or anything, but the lack of goals from Craig Noone and – to be frank – lack of general quality in the final-third from our other wide attackers is beginning to unsettle a few onlookers three rounds in to the new season.
Noone will come good (we’re without doubt about that), but the greater concern comes from the other wing, where Ramy Najjarine and Lachie Wales have arguably underperformed thus far as they occupy the position whilst Cabrera is injured.
If we’re honest, City haven’t had a player with a consistently decent final ball to the striker for years; even Daniel Arzani was criticised for lacking the final product despite his incredible ability to beat defenders, at which he was so talented and so consistently able to achieve that he’d eventually get the assist out of sheer persistence.
As we started with, it’s not a huge issue just yet, but Adelaide exposed last Wednesday that once the threat of Jamie Maclaren is nullified, we’ve not got much else – at least until Noone finds his FFA Cup form again.