Match report by Brett Trevenen
American Football coach Vince Lombardi once quipped, “If football isn’t about winning and losing, then why do they keep score?” Indeed that was very much in the back of City players’ minds today as they put on a quality performance to run out 3-2 winners and maintain their unbeaten pre-season.
Atkinson and Berenguer were the notable omissions to the line-up with the Frenchman nearing a return and likely to get minutes in Friday’s upcoming friendly v Bentleigh, whilst the young Aussie fullback watched on from the sidelines. Newly signed Japanese winger Naoki Tsubaki was still serving out his quarantine after arriving in the country.
City opted for their now standard 4-1-2-3 with Garrucio, Good, Griffiths and Jamieson holding down the back 4, Aidan O’Neill operating in the defensive midfield position whilst Metcalfe and Luna played as two 8’s. Noone, Maclaren and Nabbout headed up the front three.
Slick City out-press a disappointing United
From the outset City looked fantastically fit and sharp, pressing their opponents relentlessly to force turnovers and create chances.
It took just seven minutes for Nabbout to force an error out of the Western defence before calmly sliding the ball into the path of Maclaren who thumped the ball home from nine yards.
The first half presented a few chances for United on the break, largely through the pace of ex-City lad Dylan Pierias on the right, however it was the visiting team that was creating all the play with some exquisite exchanges through the middle, as well as some artistry down the right-hand side via Luna and Nabbout.
One such exchange occurred on 17 minutes went a superb Luna through-ball found Nabbout who whipped a dangerous ball to the back stick. The panicked clearance from Western only got as far as Aidan O’Neill who smashed an absolute screamer of a half-volley into the top corner from 25 yards to double City’s lead.
City continued to chisel out chances whilst United had their few moments either again through Pierias on the counter or via set-pieces where Diamante threatened to pick out a green and black scone.
Just prior to the half-time whistle a casual dink in a situation the City defence looked to have covered fell to another ex-City boy, the oft-maligned Lachie Wales, who was able to feed the ball back into the path of Connor Pain who tucked it away for United’s first.
City fans (the very few that managed to scrape a ticket) got their first look at Marco Tilio after the break as he and Galloway replaced Noone and Jamieson, whilst Glover was brought off on 62’ for new signing Matt Sutton.
The first 25 or so minutes of the second half were totally one-sided as a slick City front three drew more attention out wide and the likes of O’Neill and Metcalfe were continually afforded shots at goal. Had VAR been in operation City almost certainly would have had a third following a clear handball in the box however the referee waved it clear.
The boys in City blue weren’t able to put one of those many chances away until right on 70’ when JMac took advantage of a ball that eluded the United defence and was able to tuck it under the keeper to make it 3-1.
Bulk changes followed and the entire City starting lineup was replaced by youngsters barring Ben Garrucio, who saw out the full 90. Western United were able to claw one back on 78’ after a spilled ball from Sutton was tapped in by Stamatelopoulos and the mob up the road continued to have the better of the final exchanges.
Colakovski seemed the most likely for City throughout the remainder of the 90, although he’ll almost certainly be kicking himself after missing a golden chance within a minute of United’s 2nd.
Good, Bad, Beautiful
Good – An incredibly promising 70 minutes for fans of the team in blue. In fairness, City’s wingers were given plenty of space to operate in which they may not normally see, but I think that this front three might be strong enough that whenever a defence focuses on shutting down one individual, the other two can reap the rewards and make their opposition pay.
Bad – Goals conceded; once again we’ve been unable to keep a clean sheet. Whilst neither of the goals in isolation would leave fans too worried, we have failed to keep a clean sheet now for the entire pre-season and leaking a goal or two every week is not usually the hallmark of a championship side. Needs to improve.
Beautiful – The day. Beautiful one day, perfect the next is often said about Ballarat’s weather and it didn’t fail to disappoint. Beer was cold and I mean geez, how good is it to watch live football again after 9 months of pain. Vamos.
Glover – Largely untroubled and certainly not at fault for the first goal. Made a quality save late on in the first half. 6
Garrucio – Went head to head with WU’s best in Pierias in the 2nd half and opposition winger had a good game, we thought Benny held up his end too. Wasn’t able to get forward too much due to the nature of the game. 6
Good – Solid as ever. Not a heap to do. 6.5
Griffiths - The more ‘ball-playing’ of the two CB’s, Griff put in a pretty impressive shift. Reads the ball well and is very strong aerially, so its easy to see why he is now viewed as a centre back rather than a defensive midfielder in the coach’s eyes. 7.5
Jamieson – Took Pierias for the first half in what was a good 45’ hit out for the skipper. Per Garrucio, the nature of the WU defensive strategy didn’t allow many opportunities to get up the pitch. 6
O’Neill – Quite noticeably being coached into the 6 position by PK from the sidelines, O’Neill had a pretty good day overall, regularly picking out passes and smashing home a banger. First touch passing was a little sloppy on occasion but no harm done in this instance. Wasn’t overly tested defensively by a Western United side that found the wings their only workable way forward. 7.5
Metcalfe – Very quiet first half but noticeably much slimmer. Worked his way into the game in the second period and will be disappointed he wasn’t able to convert a couple of decent chances. 6
Luna – The energiser bunny. A brilliant pressing performance and regularly created the turnover and the pass that led to City’s best chances. Our man of the match. 8.5
Nabbout – Didn’t get the goal he deserved but a very polished performance by our new signing. Looks like he will fit into the setup perfectly. 8
Noone – In all the right areas but end product eluded him a bit today. Should benefit from the attention Maclaren and Nabbout will command, just needs to make hay. 6.5
Maclaren – Super performance and stiff not to get the man of the match choccies. The Western United defence seemed to be in two minds as to which of our attackers to close off and Jmac regularly pounced, getting on the end of channel balls and creating great chances. Two goals came from opposition errors, but it was his general play that offered the most excitement out of this performance. 8.5
Sutton – Not a cameo he’ll look back on with any fondness. Day started badly when he was the only man on the bench not to get a seat and hit a low point when he conceded a goal he should have kept out. Very vocal at the back however and genuinely organised his defence which are great signs from a young keeper. 4.5
Galloway – Per above it wasn’t much of a day for fullbacks. Not much to comment on either way. 5
Tilio – A bit static for my liking in general play, but showed his ability to travel with the ball numerous times as the game wore on. Probably not ready for a starting role just yet, but I think he’s a ‘watch this space’. Keep an eye on him coming on in the CAM position going forward. 5.5
Other Subs – Bit difficult to comment on the late changes as City seemed to lose the initiative somewhat as the game petered out.