'Pretenders, perhaps?': 3 things we learned - Melbourne Derby
When the opportunity to capitalise on Sydney’s slip-up presented itself, we failed to deliver.
Our loss to Victory last night becomes yet another in a string of soul-crushing defeats this season when it seemed we were about to step up and break through the ceiling of mediocrity which we’d allowed ourselves to be hampered by.
Two first-half headers to Ola Toivonen silenced the buzzing excitement and dampened the optimistic spirits of City fans who’d come to AAMI Park with every reason to believe we’d assert our dominance and prove our superior quality to our rival, but who instead left frustrated by our failure on the big stage.
Harrison Delbridge recovered from a first-half shocker to become arguably our best player in the second period, scoring our only goal from a corner routine and drastically improving his defensive performance to prevent Victory from scoring again.
Here are three things we learned from last night’s Derby disappointment:
Eyes off the prize for now…
We’re going to put it out there right now; any ambitions of pushing Sydney FC for the Premiers Plate need to massively take a back seat after last night’s performance. More to the point, it needs to take a back seat because we’re so consistently inconsistent that we can’t possibly deserve to be in serious title contention.
Before we see any comments or screenshots of us just two or three weeks ago saying that we’re capable of challenging for top spot, we’re not saying that we’re not, just that a step back needs to be taken so that we can observe where we are as a team and to re-evaluate our expectations.
When all the parts of the machine are working in perfect order, it makes for a slick unit that can’t be stopped. A few loose parts, however, and you get Adelaide away or Perth home…
This statement’s been thrown around a fair bit on the podcast already, but it’s looking like there’s some validity to the sentiment that Adrián Luna’s brace last weekend was the perfect instance of a player who shines against the smaller sides but goes missing in key games.
Last night he was truly anonymous; just one 90-minute player (Jamie Maclaren) made fewer passes and had fewer touches than Luna, and JMac was being double-teamed all night with deplorable service yet again.
The rhetoric has also been leveled at Luna’s compatriot Javier Cabrera, whose best performances have similarly come in lesser fixtures, though the winger has been the more consistent of the two.
Arguably, the comment can also be applied to the majority of last night’s starting XI. Looking across the ground, there simply wasn’t an individual who put in a respectable, 90-minute performance, and you know what? It was exactly the same against Perth and Adelaide before that.
There’s a time for a ‘three things’ format and it’s not now
So here’s the discussion we really want to have:
Trawling through the social media comments to garner some reaction and understand the fan perspective, the predominant sentiments were either “Until we win games like this, we’ll never win anything” or “This inconsistency isn’t down to the players or coach, it’s cultural”.
And hell, maybe it is cultural.
But this season has genuinely felt, despite our small handful of disappointing losses already, that we were beginning to take steps in the right direction because, to address the former sentiment, it’s felt like we actually were starting to win ‘games like this’ and it’s been one of the most-pleasing aspects of the season so far.
In many ways, our win against Western United in Round 3 was defining. The team’s determination to resolutely bounce back from our FFA Cup humiliation was admirable, but all the talk in the world wasn’t going to make a difference unless we backed it up on the park, and we did. We made a statement with our first goal and made another with the late winner after Harrison Delbridge’s red card and penalty concession which seemed like a ‘typical City’ moment that would cost us the game against a team we were expected to beat.
Following this, we secured six out of six points in home games against Central Coast and Wellington, the latter of whom have since found themselves on a decent run of form, even holding Sydney to a draw yesterday.
Losses like those to Brisbane, Perth and Victory last night hurt so much and have us asking these questions because it felt like, for the first time in a long time, the culture was changing; that we had finally turned a corner.
But then again, isn’t that the most City thing to fall for in the first place?