City will feature in the 2019 FFA Cup Final after easing past Brisbane Strikers 5-1 at Perry Park on Tuesday night. Erick Mombaerts elected for an unchanged starting lineup from our win over Western Sydney Wanderers in the Quarters, including handing another competitive start to Ramy Najjarine.
It was a horrible start for Melbourne, with Brisbane’s star striker Andrew Pengelly sending a curling effort from outside the box into the back of the net. On another day, Dean Bouzanis might have made the save, but on this occasion he slipped as he prepared to dive. Early on, City’s high pressing was working wonders against a mistake-prone Strikers backline, who were determined to persist with playing out from the back. However, once we recovered possession, our passing and attacking buildup was simply too slow, allowing for the opposition players to get back into position. Regardless, as the half progressed, City’s chances on goal became more frequent, with the Strikers forced to just absorb pressure and counter whenever possible. Seeing all 20 outfielders in the Strikers own half really became the story of the first 45. It wasn’t until the 30th minute that City finally restored parity, with Jamie Maclaren pouncing on an error by Scott Halliday, driving towards the Strikers’ box before passing off to Connor Metcalfe, who calmly slotted the ball across the keeper into the far corner for his first competitive senior goal. Ramy Najjarine had his chance in the 39th when Strikers keeper Bon Scott rushed out towards an advancing Metcalfe who was through on goal but at a wide angle. Scott mistimed his smothering effort, leaving Metcalfe to cut the ball back to Najjarine who faced an open goal, but was caught in an awkward position for the shot and put the ball well over the bar.
There were two big chances in the 40th minute, starting with Josh Brillante’s absolute rocket of a shot from well outside the box which stung the gloves of Scott and went over the bar for a corner. Not long after, Berenguer put in a beautiful cross for Maclaren whose header looped over the keeper but bounced off the crossbar. City took the lead just three minutes into the second half when a long ball from Scott Jamieson found Berenguer in the box, who was able to head it back to Maclaren who slotted it past the keeper. Ramy Najjarine’s night ended prematurely yet again when he was replaced by Javier Cabrera in the 59th. The young winger has struggled in both of his Cup starts thus far, but we’re hopeful that he’ll find his feet soon. As it turned out, the substitution was a masterstroke, with Javier Cabrera netting his first goal for the club just three minutes after coming on. A long ball from midfield found Berenguer on the wing, who seemed like he had all the time in the world when he put in an inch-perfect cross for Cabrera who finished easily.
Adrián Luna came on for Connor Metcalfe straight after the goal, but the 19-year-old was impressive in midfield yet again and looks certain to start in Round 1 and beyond. Strikers’ goalkeeper Bon Scott was incredible all night and is being touted as a potential target for A-League teams to look at. He made three huge saves between the 64th and 70th minute to keep out shots inside the box from Luna and Cabrera, as well as a close-range header from Maclaren. Without Scott, the Strikers would surely have conceded seven or eight at least. Florin Berenguer looked much-improved throughout the game, towards the end of which he was playing with a certain confidence and freedom that he’s not yet displayed at City. Jamie Maclaren scored his second goal in the 80th following another perfect cross from the wing, this time by Craig Noone. JMac scuffed his first shot, but fortunately found himself with plenty of time to put the second effort into the back of the net. With another brace in the bag – now six goals in four Cup appearances – Maclaren was replaced by Moudi Najjar in the 82nd. With the game already in the bag, Scott Galloway’s 92nd minute rocket from outside the box was certainly unexpected, with the fullback also getting his first goal for City.
Despite the early scare, having gone 1-0 down and then following it up with a lacklustre 15 minutes or so following that, the City boys put in a professional showing and competently dispatched a team that we were expected to beat.
Florin Berenguer was one of the standouts with two assists and looked far more confident and more of a threat than we’d previously seen from him.
Jamie Maclaren’s on fire right now, and his partnership with Noone could very well become the league’s most lethal strike force, let alone if Javier Cabrera can take confidence from his goal and match their form throughout the season; the trio would be unstoppable.
Could another ultra-attacking, 15/16-style season be on the cards?
Final score: Strikers 1 – 5 City ⚽️ 30' Metcalfe ⚽️ 48’ Maclaren ⚽️ 62' Cabrera ⚽️ 80' Maclaren ⚽️ 92’ Galloway