The first Derby of the Men's season always promises to be a heated affair, and boy did it deliver.
Ultimately the two sides couldn’t be separated, and City will have to settle for a point after playing out a 2-2 draw against our cross-town rivals.
Whilst the game may have ended without a winner, it wasn’t short on talking points, and perhaps provided more questions as opposed to answers for the City faithful.
With the game providing so much food for thought, let's reflect on some of the immediate takeaways from the latest iteration of the Christmas derby:
Atkinson has to start
Atkinson made his first league start of the season last night and based on his performance you wouldn’t have known. Nate looked zoned in from the first kick of the game and didn’t ease up for the entirety of the 90.
Atkinson, although playing at right full-back, looked our most threatening player for the majority of the game, working tirelessly down the right wing to get himself into menacing positions. This paid dividends in the second half as the Olympian made a marauding run through the middle of the pitch, providing Tilio with the space to feed Nabbout on a platter.
These sorts of bursts have become a trademark of Atkinson’s game over the last two seasons, and his ability to create something from nothing is painfully missed when he’s not in the side.
Aside from his attacking qualities, Atkinson has also made terrific strides in his defensive ability, showcased once more last night as the Victory were unsuccessful down the right side for the whole match.
Galloway's run of form rightfully caused some deliberation as to who should start at the right-back position. However, when Atkinson is commanding the entirety of the wing with his defensive and attacking prowess, it's near impossible to keep him out of the starting XI. City just seem to miss his influence when he’s not playing.
Competition for places is a fantastic problem to have, but when Nate performs the way he does during his starts this season, there really is no other option than to have his name be one of the first on the team sheet.
Two points lost, or one gained?
Last night raised further questions for City fans that perhaps we don’t have the answer to yet. Is a draw against an evidently competitive Victory side a good result? Are the lapses in concentration that lead to goal concessions something we’ll stamp out, or are they now becoming real concerns? These are the sorts of questions on the minds of City fans that we just don’t know.
After all, as this is being written, we currently have only lost one match all year, and that was to the side sitting on top of the table. Perhaps the league is more competitive this year than it was last year; perhaps we have to adjust to being the hunted, as opposed to being the hunter.
Clearly, we’re doing a lot right, putting goals past any Tony Popovic side is a great effort, let alone two in three minutes, and once again we find ourselves looking at how we cost ourselves maximum points as opposed to being outplayed.
And yet again, we perhaps feel deflated even though we didn’t lose the football match. This feeling is shared both by the players and fans, which is a good thing. It is a testament to the drive and expectation Melbourne City now demands and this ensures complacency is something we won’t have to overcome.
There seems to be an overwhelming feeling that the boys are just one match away from clicking the way we know they can. Last year proved that when that 'click' happens, we are hard to stop.
It is also worth noting that last year we started with six points from six games; we are currently eight from five. This isn’t sugar-coating the struggles we are seeing reoccur, but more putting into perspective that perhaps things aren’t as bad as they seem.
There is a lot we don’t know. What we do know, however, is we are more than capable of stepping up a few gears, we aren’t consistently losing games, and we are hungry to get to the levels of performances we know we are capable of.
It’s frustrating, but these boys have earned our faith to trust the process a little while longer.
The rivalry is as alive as it’s ever been
Let’s get honest for a second: perhaps embarrassing Victory as much as we did last year subsided our feelings toward them just a tiny bit. I mean, derby tension is less likely to be present when you know there’s a huge chance of us putting at least five goals past them.
Last night's game, though? That was a textbook derby. Two teams with sights set entirely on the title doing whatever they can to get an early jump on the pack. Raw emotion, tackles, goals, fouls; this derby had it all.
One thing that was felt amongst our fans was the immense pride to be with City. Football is arguably more important off the pitch than it is on it, and the cultural gap between the two clubs continues to be blatantly evident.
There is a passion to be with City, we do things our way, we present ourselves a particular way, we look after our players and one another a particular way, in the simplest form, it’s just the City way.
This is a far cry from the way Victory do things, exemplified by a particular group of ‘Original Style Melbourne’ members; details aren’t necessary, but those at the game will be aware of the ‘incidents’ that took place.
It is undeniable that the rivalry is alive and well. This is also represented through the players on the pitch, who are showing a real sense of honour for their club and the fans they represent.
Victory can try to denounce us all they want, but they love to hate us. We may have to settle for a draw this time out, but the clubs as a whole will be itching to get another go at each other in round two of the bout later in the 21/22 men’s season.
However, as easy as it is to get carried away with the emotions and politics of it all, when a game is good as what we saw last night, it just proves that Australian football is alive and well. When you allow football to be football, there really is nothing else quite like it.
Last night may have left us with the same desire for answers as the past few weeks, but there is still plenty to be positive about. We continue to earn results from games whilst navigating the journey to reaching our full potential, which is sure to be weighing on the minds of oppositions around the country.
Patrick Kisnorbo’s men will be mindful of how long they can afford to be not at their best, but for now we can continue to have faith in the group that proved their ability to overcome these sorts of challenges last season.
Now, we look forward to Wednesday evening against Wellington Phoenix, in which a win will see us progress to the Semi-Finals of the FFA Cup.