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Anything but smooth sailing: Three things we learned - Newcastle Olympic vs City

In what was anything but smooth sailing, Melbourne City has progressed through to the Round of 16 of the Australia Cup after grinding out a 1-0 victory against Northern New South Wales NPL outfit Newcastle Olympic.

Source: Melbourne City FC Twitter

Any concerns of how seriously City would be taking this year's competition were shortly put to bed after Patrick Kisnorbo’s team sheet was released. Aside from debutant Luke Oresti, City’s starting XI was comprised of regular members of the squad over the last couple of seasons, suggesting that the boys were here to play.

City dominated the majority of the first half, occupying 80% of the first 45 minutes' worth of possession. Despite City’s dominance of the football, Olympic defended valiantly, sitting deep and making it difficult for PK’s men to find any real inroads towards goal. It wasn’t until the 40th minute that City were finally open to open their competitive account for the 2022/23 season. A ball in from Florin Berenguer skidded off the turf just in front of the six-yard area, forcing Olympic keeper Adam Pearce to fumble the ball towards the feet of Luke Oresti, who made no mistake in opening his professional account on his senior debut, a moment he is sure to remember for years to come.

City was able to fashion one final chance for the half in the 45th minute, as Florin Berenguer’s low-driven shot was matched by the opposing keeper, sending the sides into the sheds with City holding a 1-0 lead.

Thus began a tale of two halves.

The second period saw Olympic come out a completely different side, which in all honesty, City was never really able to deal with. Olympic found themselves in control for the majority of the second half, causing Tom Glover (more on him later) to make two very impressive saves within the first 15 minutes of the second half.

A chance to put the game to bed was squandered in the 72 minute, as Jordan Bos made a trademark run down the left, cutting the ball back to Max Caputo on the edge of the six-yard box who blazed the ball over the bar.

City was nearly left to rue this miss, as the final 20 minutes of the match saw Kisnorbo’s side weathering an onslaught of Olympic attacks, being only millimetres away from letting the NPL side back into the game after Glover failed to deal with a ball in, fumbling it onto his post and out of play.

Fortunately, City was able to see off the Olympic challenge and progress to the next round of the competition.

With so much to unpack from the first competitive 90 minutes of the new season, here are three things we learned:

What Tom Glover will we get?

It goes without saying that Glover has been on the end of his fair share of criticism in recent times.

Fortunately, City's #1 pulled off two fantastic saves in the second half that did enough to leave fans contemplating whether there may be more to come from the former Spurs shot-stopper.

Glover first bailed out the City defence when he dove across his goal to pluck out a header that was destined for the side netting and did it for a second time when he reacted quickly to get down and turn a wicked low drive onto his post and out to safety.

Credit where credit is due, these two efforts from our #1 were sure to impress many a City fan.

However, there was a scare late on from Glover as he failed to read a fairly mundane cross in that as previously mentioned, resulted in City being oh so lucky not to concede.

It appears Glover still has the potential to be a top keeper for the club, though there is also potential in the number and significance of howlers that are becoming more frequent and more worrying as of late.

Which Glover we will see more of this season remains to be seen. City has invested in bringing in a new goalkeeping coach, Mike van Houten, over the off-season, who will hopefully assist in the young shot-stopper's return to his best. Whether or not this happens, time will tell.

Midfield Woes

If ever there was a match to highlight the importance Aiden O'Neill has on this side, it was last night.

City seemed to play what I can only describe as 'donut football' for a lot of the game. There was back, there was front, there was left and right, but no centre.

The main route of attack arrived from our back four pinging balls to the wide men all night, with very little interest to play through the middle. Whilst this provided opportunities for Oresti and Bos (who even converted one into that silver-platter assist that Caputo wasted) to show their worth early on, it soon became predictable and Olympic were able to keep their fullbacks deep, not allowing City to catch them out of position.

In the second half, the battle in the middle of the park was more obvious in City’s defensive game, as City found immense difficulty in controlling the ball and playing out from the back as they so often do. This resulted in City facing an onslaught of attacks with no end in sight.

Fortunately, this issue is not a permanent one. Gomulka had to shoulder much of City’s midfield last night with Florin being used higher up in the pitch. Aiden O’Neill is still in recovery and shouldn’t be too far away, whilst we are still yet to see what Richard van der Venne has to offer as he was left out of last night squad due to lack of match fitness.

Both additions are sure to add quality and respite to the centre of the pitch moving forward. However, handling such situations may be well worth a look for PK, as the squad are sure to have to handle similar circumstances later on in the season against higher quality opposition.

Work to do, but box checked

It wasn’t the prettiest or most convincing of displays, but City were able to achieve the main task of the night in progressing through to the next round of the tournament.

It's no secret that these fixtures are one of, if not the main, highlights of most NPL sides' seasons.

This often results in them throwing everything they have into a matchup against (in last night's case) a side four weeks into preseason. So despite some areas for improvement, it goes without saying that some leeway may be worth giving to the City side.

The season has just begun, no one's match fit, some key players were out (such as Nabbout, O’Neill, van der Venne) and there are further players likely to be added to the squad for the upcoming season.

So whilst it wasn’t as breezy as we’d like it to be, this will surely be far from the best version of the squad we will see this season. Of course there is a lot of work to do and some areas to improve, but the squad was able to progress and keep ourselves in the competition. That is nothing but a positive.

Melbourne City will now return to the training track, eagerly awaiting the draw to determine who we will face in the Round of 16 of the Australia Cup.

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