A Sunday evening clash at AAMI Park against the Wanderers ended up becoming a shootout as City were held to a 3-3 draw.
After going 2-0 down early to goals from Troisi and Rodwell in the opening ten minutes, City found themselves level at the half thanks to an own goal from Petratos and a clinical header from Jamie Maclaren. After the break substitute Marco Tilio fired City ahead with a screamer from the edge of the area, but some sloppy defending saw Ogawa level it for the Wanderers. Some late chaos saw a flurry of chances for the visitors (including a rather clear penalty somehow not given), but by the final whistle it remained all square.
Here are three things we learned from this game:
Finishing is a problem
Yeah, this one might feel a bit strange after a game where we scored three goals, but the problem is we should have absolutely scored more.
City registered 19 shots through the game, only 3 of which were actually on target. Take into account that one of our goals was walked over the line by an opposition player, and that feels rather worrying.
On paper we have one of the most impressive forward lines in the history of the league, so why are we struggling to score goals? There seems to be a lack of cohesion between the midfield and the front third, so why is the new visa attacking midfielder we signed in the offseason unable to buy a minute of league action?
We seem to create chances, but we still can’t bury the simple ones, the goals that we would have scored last season. Jamie Maclaren missed with an open goal twice tonight. Mathew Leckie looked afraid to pull the trigger. Our third goal even came from a half chance taken by a talented youngster in Tilio.
The free-flowing, free-scoring team of last season has been figured out, and we can’t seem to adjust.
Where are the substitutes?
By the end of the game most of the City team looked out on their feet. Who could blame them? It was a warm evening, it had been a fast-flowing encounter, the team had played 120 minutes midweek and before that the entire squad had been in isolation due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the team. It would be very safe to assume that most of the team were pretty cooked.
Yet, we only made one personnel change during the match. Our one substitution came in the 56th minute as Florin Berenguer was replaced by Marco Tilio in central midfield. The move proved effective, as Tilio put City ahead just 4 minutes later.
So why were there no more substitutions made? It isn’t like we lacked talent on the bench. Sitting on the pine were youngsters Anthony Lesiotis and Kerrin Stokes, as well as two more established players; Italian import Manuel Pucciarelli and fan favourite Stefan Colakovski, a young man who proved himself in last season’s finals series when he led the line in place of Jamie Maclaren. Why weren’t any of these players called upon?
Well, the issue is not just one that appeared in this particular game. It has been an issue all season. Patrick Kisnorbo has been extremely conservative with his substitutions this season, only using more than two subs in a game once all campaign.
This wouldn’t be an issue if the team were flying and the starting 11 were all performing perfectly, but that is not the case.
Mathew Leckie has left a lot of City fans deeply concerned after a poor start to the season, and many are wondering when we will see somebody replace him in the team. This game would have been a perfect opportunity to bring him off and play Pucciarelli for the first time in the league this season, pushing Tilio to the wing, or perhaps a straight swap with Colakovski, who has only seen three minutes of league action this campaign.
Regardless, in a league where the heat of summer is combining with massive interruptions to the season caused by Covid, squad rotation is incredibly important, and it feels like an aspect of management that is being neglected.
Alarm bells should be ringing
This game was a litmus test.
City have struggled so far in their Championship defence, and a win against a struggling Wanderers was needed in order to set the season on the right course.
We did not get that win. Instead we got a very lucky draw.
The team looks disjointed, lethargic and worryingly disconnected. Our movement out of defence is poor and inconsistent. Our final ball to our forwards is sorely lacking. In this game we struggled at times to string even a handful of passes together, and were second to almost every ball.
The slow start to the title defence is quickly becoming a failed title defence.
The team is worryingly bereft of ideas when the game turns against us, and constant lapses in concentration see us leaking easy goals.
As I said in my preview article for this game, I am not calling for Kisnorbo to be sacked or anything like that, however alarm bells should be ringing at City HQ.
Our Cup campaign is over after an embarrassing loss to Wellington, our Derby dominance has come to an end after letting three points slip away against the Victory at Christmas, and now we are sitting in 5th, five points off the top of the league so early in the season. Things need to change. Fast.
Is Paddy Kisnorbo the man to turn it around and get us back into contention? I certainly hope so.
We need to get back to our winning ways soon, especially with the Asian Champions League just around the corner, or we can kiss this season goodbye.