It was FAR from pretty but Melbourne City have scraped past an impressive Western United outfit to progress to our first ever A-League Grand Final.
It was a game largely dominated by the A-League newcomers, whom we concede deserve respect for their accomplishments in their first season, and our boys were fortunate to scrape out the historic victory, but we’re more than happy to take it; in the end, the result came from putting in one of our best defensive performances of the year and by showing resolve when the going got tough.
The game got off to a tense opening ten minutes, with the feeling of the contest much different to last week’s encounter. Steven Lustica opened the proceedings with the game’s first shot on-target in the second minute, when he scuffed a shot straight to Tom Glover following an early corner.
The game came alive briefly when Jamie Maclaren sent City fans into ruptures after slotting the ball into the back of the net in the 18th minute, but the goal was disallowed for an offside that occurred during the buildup.
The balance shifted from then on, with Western United claiming the majority of attacking play, forcing two great saves from Tom Glover following shots from Josh Risdon and Max Burgess.
City’s defensive efforts were commendable though, with Richard Windbichler in particular making some crucial interventions. Aside from Glover’s saves against Risdon and Burgess, the City defence marshalled their area excellently and largely prevented any clear-cut chances.
As it turned out, the first half offered a worrying sign of things to come, with Western United turning up the heat in the second period.
Curtis Good provided a crucial, goal-saving headed intervention shortly after the restart, preventing what appeared to be a certain goal-scoring opportunity for Besart Berisha following the cross from Alessandro Diamanti.
Things were looking grave for City soon after, with United launching an all-out assault on our penalty area for the following ten minutes.
Tom Glover pulled off a pivotal, match-saving stop when he denied Steven Lustica with a miraculous fingertip save that kept his side in the clash – an action which proved to be the game-changing moment.
Just eight minutes after Glover’s heroics, Aaron Calver brought down Jamie Maclaren in the box to earn a penalty, which our talismanic number nine slotted with precise execution into the bottom left corner.
The goal allowed City to compose themselves and swing momentum back towards neutrality, largely keeping out Western United until a decisive own-goal put the match to bed in the 84th minute. United defender Tomoki Imai was unlucky to have his off-balance, clearing header from the corner end up in the back of the net, plunging the final dagger into his team’s heart.
United’s all-out attacking approach to the final ten minutes almost yielded results, with Berisha nearly capitalising on a miscommunication between Windbichler and Glover, though the Austrian defender did well to clear the ball off the line late in the piece.
When the final whistle blew, it was clear how much the result meant to the boys, with emotional celebrations spilling onto the pitch and the gravity of the team’s achievement starting to materialise.
After ten seasons, City fans will finally get to see their beloved club take its place in the biggest spectacle on the Australian footballing calendar.
Tom Glover’s heroics can’t be understated and it’s hard to see the game falling our way as it did without his crucial saves during that ten-minute onslaught in the second half, whilst Curtis Good should also be applauded for his several goal-saving interventions which kept our boys in the contest.
Ten months after publishing an article titled ‘Failure of the Highest Order’ following our FFA Cup Final humiliation, tonight’s post-match report certainly has an air of redemption behind it.
Throughout the 2019/20 season, this club has been tested on and off the field in ways that we’ve never experienced before.
Putting aside the unprecedented adversity presented by COVID-19, the team has demonstrated time and time again a resilience that fans have arguably never seen before – still susceptible to our frustrating ‘typical City’ performances, we’ve shown the welcome ability to bounce back from disappointing defeats like no City side that has come before.
Losing several important players to season-ending (or so we thought) injuries and Susaeta to the turmoil of coronavirus, our second-string players have consistently stood up to serve the team’s needs and this depth has proven valuable throughout the testing season.
Now, players and fans alike look ahead to the dazzling lights of a Grand Final fixture for the first time in club history and our City boys will look to claim the prize that we’ve all so desperately longed for.