'Who's next?': Three things we learned: Wellington vs City
The City boys will return back home tomorrow with another vital three points following their 3-1 win over Wellington Phoenix on foreign soil.
The 'Nix went ahead early through David Ball, but a textbook cross-header combination between Marco Tilio and Mathew Leckie saw parity restored within two minutes.
Tilio was at the heart of game's next score, earning a penalty after being barged through by Bozhidar Kraev inside the box early in the second half, with Jamie Maclaren stepping up to convert the penalty and become the first player to score in nine-consecutive league matches in Australian history.
Maclaren capped off his big day with a second goal deep into stoppage time, with his City teammates responding to incessant Phoenix pressure with a lethal counter-attack that saw the striker tap home from substitute Andrew Nabbout's intelligent ball across goal.
With another big test passed, here's what we learned from City's performance:
The mark(s) of champions
In coming away from New Zealand with three points, City appeased two barometers of a champion team.
The most notable, especially for fans who have endured two consecutive heart-racing periods of second-half stoppage time, is that we're winning ugly. Four goals scored and one conceded across our past two fixtures doesn't exactly feed that narrative, but make no mistake that these wins have been far from comfortable.
Secondly, the scalps of a high-scoring Central Coast Mariners (kept to a blank) and a Wellington Phoenix side whose near-impeccable home form belies their table position shouldn't be dismissed. Both opposition teams represented significant challenges to our title prospects, and though not quite with flying colours, the tests were passed nonetheless.
Suuuuuuuper, super Tom
LONG gone is the Tom Glover of last season; in 2023/23, we're witnessing a goalkeeper reborn.
Other than his unfortunate (literal) slip-up in the first half which should have seen Oscar Zawada capitalise comfortably, Glover was a standout for City throughout a high-pressure 90 minutes in which he lay the groundwork for his teammates to score the match-winning goals.
Thanks to Glover alone, City has conceded three fewer goals than would have been expected this season, with the shotstopper leading the way with a league-high save percentage of 80.6% (both stats per Fotmob).
Following a nightmare campaign last year that left him with few defenders, it's heartening to witness Glover's revival as he again becomes a fan favourite.
Squad depth in action
Whilst the quality bench players at our disposal is no secret, today's difficult clash provided an example and a learning opportunity in regard to how valuable our envy-of-the-league squad depth is.
Losing Curtis Good to a knock sustained just before half-time, Rado Vidosic was able to bring on Nuno Reis. When the team needed an injection halfway through the second period, the City head coach brought on Andrew Nabbout and Scott Galloway for Marco Tilio and Callum Talbot. When Richard van der Venne was unable to continue after 85 minutes, Vidosic turned to his club captain Scott Jamieson.
The commonality between all of the oncoming substitutes isn't just that they're high-quality players (who could step into pretty much every starting lineup in the league), it's that they're all Champions - big C. Reis, Nabbout, Galloway and Jamieson are proven winners and big-game players with an abundance of experience.
It's even more impressive when you consider that our Player of the Season from last year, Florin Berenguer, hasn't played a minute of competitive league action yet.
When our starting XI are finding it difficult against some of this year's high-quality challengers, as they have and will, it's comforting to know that we can still look to a wealth of bench options for that vital competitive edge.