Melbourne City have maintained their unbeaten streak in preseason friendlies over Bentleigh Greens, keeping the NPL Victoria side scoreless for the third successive time to record a 1-0 win in a well-contested affair.
Earlier in the night, a Melbourne City extended squad, which featured a sprinkling of surprise City senior players amongst the club’s top youth players, defeated Bentleigh’s youth side 6-2 in a more dominant performance in which the away team were able to more-effectively impose their possession-based style of play than their senior counterparts in the main event.
Having attended the double-header and watched both games closely, we’ve provided brief coverage of the extended squad game, including commentary on the performances of ones-to-watch Marco Tilio and Taras Gomulka, followed by a full match report and analysis of City’s top performers in the senior game.
Player spotlights from the extended squad curtain-raiser match
For those that weren’t at the ground for the curtain-raiser match, City’s extended squad ran out 6-2 winners against Bentleigh’s youth side. Amongst the goalscorers was Stefan Colakovski who ended the night with a brace.
A host of other senior City players were given a run in the curtain-raiser match, including Florin Berenguer (about 30 minutes), Scott Galloway (the full 90, named Captain), Taras Gomulka (90) and Marco Tilio (90).
Of the non-senior players, Jordan Bos was impressive at left-back, leveraging his superior athletic capacity and ability to keep the ball in the dribble to make several progressive runs down the left-wing in spite of some eager challenges from the Greens’ youngsters, often interplaying with a supporting central midfielder to bypass traffic.
A close eye was kept on exciting prospects Marco Tilio and Taras Gomulka, and both youngsters looked (as you would expect) a class above throughout the game.
Tilio’s touch was immediately distinguishable as being a far higher quality than that of his opponents and the winger (who, on this occasion, played on the left) utilised this to initiate several exhilarating dribbles into the final third which more often than not created chances for his teammates. This chance-creation also materialised through Tilio’s final third passing, releasing his striker or advanced midfielders after floating into more central areas with nifty through balls and reverse passes behind the Bentleigh back four.
Gomulka, on the other hand, played centrally as City’s deepest midfielder. Playing in a pivot role, the 19-year-old spent plenty of time on the ball and demonstrated some exciting long-range passing capabilities to release his wingers. The former Adelaide prospect looked visibly a class above, with not only his impressive height giving his senior status away but also his enviable composure and confidence on the ball. When not in possession, Gomulka was dogged in the tackle and would look to benefit from continuing to work on his strength to win those physical 50-50 battles.
Senior squad match report
To many fans’ disappointment, both Naoki Tsubaki and Nathaniel Atkinson were on the sidelines for both of last night’s matches and failed to feature. Florin Berenguer was eased back from injury by playing half an hour in the curtain-raiser and didn’t feature in the senior game.
In Atkinson’s absence, the game’s surprise selection was seeing Ben Garuccio line up on the right of the back four, admittedly a position that he is comfortable in despite being more regularly employed on the left. The full XI was as follows:
Goalkeeper: Tom Glover
Defenders: Ben Garuccio – Rostyn Griffiths – Curtis Good – Scott Jamieson
Midfield: Connor Metcalfe – Aiden O’Neill – Adrián Luna
Forward: Andrew Nabbout – Jamie Maclaren – Craig Noone
The game was a well-contested, if fiery, affair throughout the ninety minutes, and it wasn’t until after City’s initial settling-in period that a first chance of the night was created on 7 minutes, with Connor Metcalfe intercepting a poor clearance from the Bentleigh goalkeeper and feeding a through ball to Andrew Nabbout, whose shot was straight at the man between the sticks.
The only goal of the game came in the 11th minute when a ball from midfield released Jamie Maclaren wide, with the striker crossing a low ball into the box for Adrián Luna whose shot was initially off-target, smashing into the woodwork, but who was fortunate enough to have the ball land back at his feet to bundle the ball into the back of the net.
Jamie Maclaren’s involvement in the goal was an early indication of the striker’s role for the night, dropping deeper to involve himself in the buildup play more often than fans have previously seen of the archetypal ‘poacher’.
A golden opportunity was wasted in the 17th minute when Connor Metcalfe’s cross from the right resulted in City players literally lining up to take the shot at the edge of the six-yard box but Maclaren and Luna just couldn’t communicate which of them were intent on taking a swing before a Bentleigh defender was able to get himself in the way.
There was a succession of chances from crosses between the 19th and 28th minutes, with the first from Noone being sent over the bar from the boot of Maclaren before the second and third from Nabbout on the right were also off-target, both from headers from Noone and Maclaren.
This exploitation of the wings was close to paying off in the 35th minute when Luna’s driving midfield run found him in enough space on the right to send in an early, curling cross which met Maclaren’s forehead with pace and was bound for the back of the net if not for an incredible reflex save from Bentleigh’s keeper Pavlidis.
City maintained their characteristic high-press throughout the game but Bentleigh were able to expose it in the 40th minute when Tom Glover was forced into a smart save with his feet following the shot from the edge of the box from the on-coming Dylan Tate.
Andrew Nabbout impressed throughout the first half with his determination to win the ball and persist with attacking opportunities even when it looked unlikely that he’d be able to keep possession and these qualities were evident in the number of dangerous crosses he was able to produce in the first half, including one in the 41st minute which flashed across the goal face and almost resulted in an own goal.
Having been on the receiving end of an excessively heavy, ‘orange’ card tackle in the first half, Jamie Maclaren didn’t appear back on the pitch in the second period, though his substitution wasn’t explicitly related to the knock. City youngster Max Caputo lead the line in Maclaren’s absence and found himself on the end of a golden opportunity to make his mark within minutes of coming on, putting his shot wide following a penetrating cross from Craig Noone.
Andrew Nabbout’s work ethic was again on display when he willed his way into the box from an unlikely position on the right, his cross finding Craig Noone who shot into a Greens’ defender, sending the ball over the bar.
Max Caputo’s night ended prematurely when he was subbed off again with around 25 minutes remaining, with Emin Durakovic taking his place on the field. Craig Noone was also replaced by Harry Politidis.
Few chances were conceded in the latter half of the second period as the game was being contested with the scoreline still locked at 1-0, but this all changed with a wild final ten minutes.
The match’s closing stages began well for City, who forced a goal-line clearance from Bentleigh after a cross from Politidis caused chaos in the box, but the flow of the game changed dramatically after that.
The final five minutes were nail-biting for City fans and exhilarating for the Greens supporters with multiple massive chances for the home side to tie things up.
With 87 minutes gone, Greens winger Chudiar Tharjiath received the ball at the edge of the box with only Scott Jamieson standing in the youngster’s way. A classic battle between winger and fullback, Tharjiath squared Jamieson up and with a quick succession of body feints and stepovers, created enough space for the right-footed shot which he dragged narrowly outside the left post.
Two minutes of madness ensued, with City defending desperately in their own box and Bentleigh’s entire team pressed up beyond the halfway line. At one point, the Greens looked certain to score with an uncontested shot from inside the box forcing a diving save from Tom Glover before the rebound fell to another Greens’ player only to be miraculously saved again by the still-floored Glover.
Just 30 seconds later, it was Curtis Good who would come to City’s rescue, making a goal-saving tackle from behind to prevent the Greens’ striker from scoring.
With fans on the edge of their seat, the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of Bentleigh’s barrage on City’s area and of the game itself.
City fans should be delighted with Andrew Nabbout’s final pre-season performance as the winger looks to again return to his very best form following an underwhelming spell with Victory last year. Nabbout was City’s main attacking outlet throughout and was especially productive with his crossing from the right, interplaying well with Luna to be played into space in these wide areas.
Curtis Good was arguably the standout defensive player on the night, his calmness and composure palpable both when in possession and when shepherding the ball from opponents during foot races. Set to become one of City’s leading appearance-makers by the end of the season, Good hardly set a foot wrong all night.
If asked to name a man of the match, however, one can go no further than the seemingly unbeatable Tom Glover in goals. Whilst he didn’t have much to do for the majority of the game, the few saves that he did have to make before the 80th minute were all smart stops from decent chances that strikers would be hoping to put in the back of the net. Obviously his match-winning performance came in the final ten though and his crucial double-save to keep Bentleigh out came at a time when City were losing the battle heavily. It’s no exaggeration to say that the first-ever draw between these sides would have been the deserved result.
Final Score: Bentleigh Greens 1-0 Melbourne City