Melbourne City is heading into this season’s A-League Finals Series in very good shape after accounting for Western United to the tune of three goals to one.
It was a fairly dull first eleven minutes until we seized on a mistake by Western United, as Connor Metcalfe calmly took the ball forward and played a perfectly-weighted pass to Moudi Najjar, who made absolutely no mistake with his finish.
Even with some key players missing, we still managed to maintain a solid defensive shape and seemed to play the ball out of our defensive half with composure, despite Western United’s press, which then paved the way for some solid opportunities to create chances in transition.
We started the second half well and arguably should have made it two-nil on 50 minutes when Jamie Maclaren couldn’t convert a decent close-range chance, though it was an awkward one to deal with at that.
Thankfully though, the second goal did come seven minutes later; a needless handball from Tomislav Uskok in the penalty area lead to a spot-kick, which Jamie Maclaren took full advantage of to smash home the goal that would secure him this season's Golden Boot.
It could have easily been three-nil six minutes later, as Lachlan Wales paid the price for what was probably a needless first-touch, which gave the Western United defence time to cut off his low shot at the last minute.
Unfortunately, we gave Western United an avenue back into the game in the 69th-minute, as a wild, yet arguably fair, tackle from Richard Windbichler resulted in a penalty at the other end, which Besart Berisha converted convincingly to cut our lead in half.
Thankfully though, the points were eventually secured and the two-goal cushion got restored in the 86th-minute. Ramy Najjarine and Lachlan Wales combined nicely before the latter put in an inch-perfect cross for Jamie Maclaren, who netted to make it three braces in three games against Western United.
Here's what we learned from our final game of the regular season:
It's Lachlan Wales vs Moudi Najjar on the wing
If the gaffer didn’t have a selection headache in the lead-up to the finals, then he’s got one now off the back of the impressive performances tonight from these two boys.
Najjar put in an eye-catching 75 minutes, with his elite strike for our first goal undoubtedly the pinnacle of his good work last night, as well as his dangerous movement.
The chances of Wales starting on the wing in our semi-final looked very slim for much of the night until he provided that inch-perfect cross to help us secure the points. In doing so, he proved that his best will still be a threat to opposition teams when the finals come around.
Whilst the two are unlikely to be considered in direct competition for the same wing (given Mombaerts preference for wingers playing on their preferred side), Craig Noone’s proven versatility on either flank means that either of the youngsters could be named out wide in our Semi.
Keep your eyes peeled when the team lineup finally drops before the big game next week.
Nathaniel Atkinson has found another home at left-back
We all knew how good Nathaniel Atkinson was at right-back and now he's showing (against Adelaide and WU), that he is equally as effective on the other side.
He is adept at making long and dangerous runs right through the opposition’s midfield, as well as holding solid defensively and has proven to be perfect for Erick Mombaerts' employment of an inverted full-back.
Atkinson's going to be vital in the Finals and in the coming seasons.
Adrian Luna is Melbourne City’s Energizer Bunny across two-thirds of the pitch now
For a while now, we’ve seen Adrian Luna’s energy become integral in our midfield, but he’s taken his Energizer Bunny-like ability to roam around the football pitch into the final third now too.
It was very evident that he made consistent efforts to make himself available for runs at the opposition down the right-wing, and on top of that, was an absolute pest for WU defenders in regards to quickly sneaking in-behind and causing some problems.