Second place seemed to be all but sewn up until Craig Noone’s red card in last night’s 2-2 draw with Adelaide United, with the Reds later pegging back two goals to share the spoils.
City looked on-song in the first half, scoring two satisfying team goals which were respectively finished off by Adrián Luna and Jamie Maclaren.
A third goal in the second half would have surely put the game out of Adelaide’s reach, but the Reds showed resolve to force their way back into the contest before Craig Noone’s 67th-minute straight-red flipped the game on its head.
Pacifique Niyongabire created headaches for the City backline thereafter, repeatedly slipping into the defensive area before finally earning a penalty after being brought down clumsily by Adrián Luna.
With the spot-kick converted, City were reliant on some backs-to-the-wall defending and incredible saves from Tom Glover, before Adelaide’s near-35 minute assault on City’s area eventually culminated in an at-the-death equaliser from Ben Halloran.
Here’s what we learned from the frustrating, though far from catastrophic, night:
Berenguer can be the transformative influence when push comes to shove
There mightn’t be a more exhilarating sight in City games at the moment than that of Florin Berenguer absolutely marauding through the opposition midfield before playing an eye-watering ball through to JMac or his supporting wingers.
The Talking City panelists have been fairly split over the Frenchman since his arrival in 2018, but the 31-year-old is coming into form at the right time and is starting to win over a few late-to-the-party hearts; it’s funny what happens when you play a midfielder in midfield.
Simply put, when Frenchy’s got his head up and the ball at his feet he looks incredible, and we feel his uptick in form will go a long way towards booking ourselves a Grand Final debut.
The question remains whether he’s worth keeping on for another season, particularly if he’s our marquee again, but that’s a debate for another day.
He may have ‘trained the house down’, but he’s still the same Lachie Wales
There’s not much more that can be said for Wales at this point, so we’ll try to keep it short then. Lachlan Wales is a final third liability.
We’d love to say that he’s looked so much better since the return to play and that he’s gotten reward for the hard work in lockdown that several of his teammates have praised him for, but the fact is, Wales continues to lack end-product.
His final ball, particularly the ‘feeder’ along the ground, is far below the standard being provided by Craig Noone on the opposite wing, to the point where one side of our offense seems mostly ineffectual compared to the other… and the patience of City fans has long worn thin.
We’re looking like champions (with a lowercase c)
Ignore the red card and the result, last night’s performance should have given fans enough to finally start placing their trust in Melbourne City again – that’s playing with fire, we know.
Our first-half performance was a direct continuation from the second half against Sydney, which is exactly what we wanted to see from the boys in such a test against an in-form team.
Despite Lachie Wales dragging behind a little, our attack is lethal, our midfield is cohesive and our backline – with the recent addition of Richard Windbichler to sturdy things up – looks significantly improved from before the lockdown period.
Even the best teams are susceptible to red-card-induced boilovers, so City fans shouldn’t be too disheartened by being made to wait another week for confirmation of second place.
The signs are there for our boys, the signs that this might finally be the squad to achieve the success that has been long desired.