'A night of missed opportunities': Three things we learned - City vs Wellington Phoenix

Melbourne City has frustratingly gone down to a well-drilled Wellington Phoenix to knock us out of the Australia Cup for the second year in a row. A wet and windy night in Cranbourne hosted a match that lacked much creativity, mostly down to the difficult conditions.


City started the match fairly well, sparking optimism as the surrounding community spilled through the front gates. Retention of possession seemed to be the predominant aim of the opening minutes, as our boys lacked much forward intent other than some half-moves by Andrew Nabbout and Marco Tilio.


Warning signs went off as Wellington soon gained some control, hitting the post. It was not long until they hit the front after Nuno Reis took one too many touches in the midfield, losing out as the Phoenix streaked forward; Barbarouses lashed the resulting chance home.


City found it hard to move forward, lacking a meaningful shot until after the 30th-minute mark. Deflating the home crowd further, Wellington floated a ball into the box for Ben Waine to nod past Tom Glover for the Phoenix's second of the match. Two goals down and no way forward at half-time.


The crowd hyped their City boys up as they started the second half well, with a few shots popping off and narrowly going wide, or directly to Ollie Sail. It wasn’t until late in the match that the real play started, with Sail making an insanely talented save before Mathew Leckie finally powered a header home in the final minutes.


We weren’t able to find a leveler though, as the full-time whistle blew soon after. Disappointing, but what have we learned? Find out below:

Scott Jamieson battles for the ball - Source: Melbourne City FC

Plan A… Then what?

This has been a primary point of conversation within the City fan circles over the years. Success has possibly placed this issue in the blind spot, but it is becoming increasingly evident as time progresses. What is plan B?


Long balls and floating crosses persisted despite going against the wind, effectively taking the front three out of the game from the get-go. Tilio found it difficult to make any movements, as Wellington placed two defenders on him most of the time; no changes were made to mitigate this. Instead, he was left stranded on the wing attempting to find an avenue to cut the ball back to no avail.


Jamie Maclaren was also missing in action, somehow hardly touching the ball in the first half. On paper, we have one of the most threatening forward lines in the league, yet we still find it difficult to create chances when conditions are unsuitable.


One change made in 90 minutes tells a story of trusting your first eleven, but also states a lack of belief that your substitutes can turn a result around. We are only in early days this season, but we continue to be incapable of working our way back into a game by making alterations.


Lacking an impact: Jamie Maclaren

Our star striker. There is no doubt that the man oozes talent. His ability to direct the ball on target and score goals is unparalleled in the A-League Men.


Unfortunately, Maclaren tends to have difficulty making an impact when the going gets tough in a match. If his supporting players are unable to develop play (and chances), that is when we see Jamie go missing. Last night, he registered only a single shot on goal in the entire game, suggesting that the chances were just not coming.

A difficult night for Jamie Maclaren - Source: Melbourne City FC

I absolutely agree that it is up to the supporting players to put the ball into areas for Maclaren to flourish, but this also comes down to the lack of a backup plan. Without a ball-playing centre forward to rely on when Maclaren can’t get into a game, we are stuck without a clear route to goal.


We should absolutely stick by him, but if teams continue to limit Maclaren’s impact on a game, it is going to be slim pickings in terms of goals this season.


A night of missed opportunities

This could almost be an article by itself, so I will try to condense. There were three main areas of ‘missed opportunity’ last night:


Goal threat:

There was a complete lack of finishing ability in the squad tonight. If it was not for a lovely ball into Leckie who was able to smash one home with the top of his scone, the night would have had no consolations on the field. Though there were multiple shots on target, our efforts were too often straight at Sail to make the comfortable save. Some work on the training pitch is required before the start of the league season!


Potential fans:

According to AustraliaCup.com.au, 2067 fans found their way to Casey Fields last night. A respectable crowd for a cold, wet, windy school night, and an even better chance to reel in more fans. Of course, the conditions were not great for champagne football, but the intent of ‘hoof ball’ at times certainly was not turning any heads. With hundreds heading for the exits with ten minutes to go, don’t expect to see many new faces at AAMI Park come the start of the A-League Men’s season.


Trophy cabinet:

Both Western United and Melbourne Victory had been knocked out prior to us lining up against Wellington Phoenix. If we had made it past the New Zealand based side, our City boys would have surely been one of the steady favourites to take home the trophy for a second time. Instead, we may have to wait a while longer to lift more silverware. To make matters worse, the Australia Cup also ensures continental football, meaning we must become Premiers for a third time running if we want to head back to Asia.


 

A frustrating night it was. Our A-League Men hopes surely dwindled after that performance, but there is still a lot of pre-season to go until it all kicks off. With further preparation, some shooting practice, development of a ‘Plan B’, and the introduction of new signings into the XI, we may be in for a good season after all.


Not the feel-good night we were all after, but hope remains. Bring on the season.



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