On a forgettable and regrettable evening, Melbourne City lost against their rivals 3-0 in a result best left to the history books.
Here are three things we learned:
Flat Track Bullies
Irrespective of the result last night, this season has still been excellent and where we have excelled may well still lead us to the Premiership Plate. Having said this, there is no denying the fact that last night disclosed what had been only apparent to some up until now: City has gained points this season when it mattered but has underwhelmingly struggled against quality opposition. Credit where credit is due, as the Victory capitalised on our poor choices and exposed our weaknesses to great effect. The alarming and stark reality is that this season has left us without a win, four draws and two losses against our two greatest threats and rivals.
Last night was not an anomaly and the statistics back this up. Our success so far this season has come down to gaining points from inferior teams in the league. This is what hurts even more than the outcome – we were outplayed, outclassed and outdone by Victory and have been unable to dominate in these tough games all season. What does this mean for our ACL chances, playing away from home and competing against teams in Asia? What will happen when we are faced with adversity; when we are second best on field? Have we got another game plan? Have we got leaders on the field who will step up when it matters? Even more concerning – what will happen when it comes to A-League Finals? How will we find our killer edge in the big games? What needs to change in order to move beyond our shortcomings of this season in order to get where we want to go?
If last night is anything to go by, we will fall well short. So many questions need to be addressed. Luckily for us – we have the benefit of time. If we are to succeed it will be due to the lessons we have learned. If we are to fall short, it will be because we have failed to address them.
It was assumed that after the Jordy Bos show from Wednesday night that Jamo would find himself keeping the bench warm. It surprised many in the stands to see him starting, but we could reason and infer that his leadership over the past few seasons may have provided a cool and experienced head in a local derby.
If this was the reasoning then retrospect is a kick in the guts. Jamo looked out of sync from the get-go, well undercooking a back pass that led to the penalty and being utterly second best all night to an in-form Marco Rojas. Long diagonal balls exposed space down the wing as Jamo spent time central in the park in his inverted positions catching his breath chasing players down the wing and being unable to prevent crosses into dangerous areas. These tactics simply did not work in a game where we were second best and compounding this reality was Jamo, who had not played in recent weeks.
Clueless too seemed the option to play without a recognised CDM. With Nuno Reis keeping a seat warm, Rostyn Griffiths was left in his place to keep pace with lightning counterattacks from Victory and numerous crosses into the box. Nuno’s pace was noticeably absent as Victory broke through our defensive lines more times than should have been afforded. This became especially evident when Florin Berengeur went down injured before half time and, 3-0 down already, this option was ignored.
Whilst we do not know what is simmering in the background – slight injuries, fatigue, squad management, future fixture congestion – we simply did not get it right on the night, whether by necessity or choice.
There was a feeling in the air that we were still in it after the penalty. Even after Marco Rojas found the back of the net just minutes later, it was felt that City simply needed to wake up. Instead, we witnessed the absolute opposite. Poorly delivered corners, second best to every 50:50, frustrated, dejected and lifeless passing backwards and sidewards. Glover, too, looked nervous every time he had the ball at his feet, sending many split-second passes straight back to the pressing Victory players. With a midfield unable to gain any traction on the game, we simply looked like we could have played all night without ever threatening the goal. We never really did wake up.
Any football fan knows you cannot win every game. Undefeated in 11 games says something of the character and determination of this squad. I think everyone would have more easily accepted defeat if the lads left everything on the park; it was the nature of the loss that was most difficult to accept.
Some commentary has noted perhaps City already had their heads in Asia. I sincerely hope this is not the case. A derby against our closest rivals, consolidating top of the ladder dominance and taking form and momentum into Asia - we had every reason to turn up, at our best, and play to our best potential.
We fell well short of this on the night.
We go again.