City match-winner De Laet the symbol of Joyce's unconventional Premiership bid
Warren Joyce has invited his fair share of naysayers over the course of the Hyundai A-League season so far, but the Melbourne City boss truly outdid himself on Friday night.
City’s growing bid for Premiership contention has risen hand in hand with raised eyebrows and curled lips flashed in Joyce’s direction, largely concerning the continued absence of Bruno Fornaroli.
But the former Manchester United taskmaster continues to hold the doubters at bay – for now, as City march forward – albeit in a largely unspectacular fashion - without their star Uruguayan striker.
This was evidenced in Friday night’s 1-0 defeat of Brisbane Roar, in which Joyce fielded Ritchie De Laet up front, the latest turn in Joyce’s ongoing insistence to keep Fornaroli sidelined.
The former Premier League medal-winner arrived as the club’s marquee right-back signing in the off-season, but continues to do the business at the other end of the pitch.
De Laet came up with the winner – a smooth 51st minute finish that combined the strength and technical prowess upon which Fornaroli has made his Hyundai A-League name.
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The Belgian has already become the new club talisman in Fornaroli’s stead. De Laet’s four goals make him City’s outright top scorer, and he has now scored as many goals for City as he has for any other team throughout his career.
Moreover, De Laet is the symbol of a side who have doubled down on the defensive aspect of the game to boost their chances of going the distance in the Premiership race.
As Joyce would likely proclaim, City have sacrificed a dose of South American flair for defensive resolution of the utmost pedigree – a fact that has seen his side conceded a meagre 10 goals all season.
His side are not as eye-catchingly formidable as table-topping Perth Glory, or boast the clinical, proven Hyundai A-League pedigree of Melbourne Victory or Sydney FC.
But for what City might lack in attacking enterprise, they account for in defensive organisation, discipline and street-wisdom – all traits synonymous with title-winning teams across the world.
That is something Joyce will eagerly remind his critics of should City continue pressing their claim as Premiership dark horses.