It was indeed a cagey affair as City and Victory played out a toothless ninety minutes to a nil-all stalemate at Marvel Stadium last night.
Our starting lineup included a few surprises, with Lachie Wales preferred as Jamie Maclaren’s replacement to lead the line, whilst back-up striker Moudi Najjar remained on the bench. Ramy Najjarine was dropped from the right wing, with Javier Cabrera taking his wide position. Florin Berenguer was absent entirely; the club citing a hamstring tweak as the reason.
Victory seemed to have the ascension early on in the piece, and Harrison Delbridge was forced to make a crucial sliding intervention in the 8th minute, preventing a low cross from being tapped in the back of the net by Ola Toivonen.
Lachie Wales had an incredible opportunity to put City ahead in the 11th when Josh Brillante held off several challenges and slipped him through one-on-one with Lawrence Thomas, but the shot was disappointingly wide. It was one of those moments where you can’t help but imagine that Jamie Maclaren might have made the most of that chance – our best of the night.
That miss was quite typical of the clash itself; the remainder of the first half was largely uneventful with both teams putting on a fairly poor performance and creating very few genuine chances by their own standards. Clearly, neither side was fully in-flight in their first league outing of the season, which just goes to prove that Round 1 isn’t the place for a Derby on the fixture list.
The game’s only major talking point came in the 57th minute when Elvis Kamsobah appeared to have successfully slotted past Bouzanis and put the Victory 1-0 up, but his goal was cancelled out by VAR who ruled that he was offside. All those backflips for nothing.
The disallowed goal seemed to suddenly spark City into life, with the majority of chances going City’s way over the ensuing fifteen minutes.
City’s first opportunity came in the 62nd when Javier Cabrera weighted a perfect long ball for Craig Noone on the left wing, who beat his defender to cut inside and released a curling effort which was saved by Thomas.
Connor Metcalfe provided the spark for City for a short period after, launching a swirling effort from outside the box which almost deceived Thomas in goals, but the Victory keeper was just able to keep it out. In the 72nd, he produced another save from Thomas when he struck a low, driving shot which unfortunately was dealt with comfortably.
Aside from Nabbout’s curling effort in the 74th which was easily saved by Bouzanis, the game’s only other big chance came for Moudi Najjar in the 91st minute, having come on to replace Lachie Wales as the central striker. Dribbling towards goal and out of reach of the Victory defenders, Najjar was unable to deal with the pressure of the moment, putting his shot well into the stands.
As the final whistle blew, it was difficult to know exactly how to feel about the game. Objectively, it’s a positive result, earning a point and keeping a clean sheet against a traditionally strong side who, whether we like it or not, are probably going to be there at the pointy end of this season as well.
As much as the development and reinforcement of the hatred in a rivalry needs a late winner or a sending off, sometimes it also needs the occasional stalemate, where the frustration simmers amidst a lack of goals. All night, Toivonen and Delbridge were coming together in heated exchanges, capped off by the boilover in the 93rd which ended in a yellow card for both players. All night, Jamo and Nabbout were in eachother’s faces, a fullback taunting his opposition winger. All we can hope for is that the stalemate means we’re going to get a no-holds-barred Christmas classic next time the two teams meet.
In regards to individual on-field performances, we can only start in one place. Harrison Delbridge was immense all night, and probably best afield for either team. The central defender made crucial low, sliding interventions as well as dominating in the air, preventing Ola Toivonen from even getting a look-in.
Connor Metcalfe was fairly impressive in his first league start, and looked a threat from outside the box when the game needed a spark.
The Uruguayans were decent enough, though a little quiet, but there were promising signs for City fans to be optimistic about nonetheless.
Final score: Victory 0 – 0 City