Glory talismen Castro and Ikonomidis deliver in City stars' absence

In a match of fine margins, it was the presence of a returning Diego Castro and Chris Ikonomidis which tipped the contest in Perth Glory’s favour. 

In contrast, Melbourne City coach Warren Joyce saw Curtis Good - standing in for injured marquee defender Ritchie de Laet - dismissed for two yellow cards, while his forward line lacked the bite it had shown when Florin Berenguer and Bruno Fornaroli where available.

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Ikonomidis proved to be the match-winner, when his poacher’s effort on the brink of half-time secured Tony Popovic’s men a 1-0 lead which they did not surrender as they retained their place on top of the Hyundai A-League.

It was an example of Glory’s key man delivering on a day where City’s most experienced heads were absent.

Experience counts

The reality was City did not defend badly and they did create chances. 

The visitors edged the possession count (51%) and led most other statistics, including passes, corners, crosses, aerial duels and interceptions.

They turned that possession into seven shots on goal - but failed to trouble Glory goalkeeper Liam Reddy even once. 

Shots on
Four of Glory's 10 shots hit the target, City did not record a single shot on target.

Glory’s relentless pressing forced City to take five of those seven attempts from outside of the box, although their best chance inside the area fell to 19-year-old Nathaniel Atkinson, who blazed over from six yards with the goal at his mercy.

It’s too simple a conclusion to say Fornaroli - who was left out of the line-up for a third straight game - would have made the difference, but City’s lack of composure in the crucial moments cost them in front of goal.

At the other end, Good - who stood in for de Laet - received a red card which all but ended City’s fight-back.

The second yellow, for a 79th minute foul on Ivan Franjic, may have been considered harsh by many - but a player showing more composure, like de Laet is known for, may have hesitated before lunging into a meaningless challenge while on a caution.

Big guns stepped up

It was far from vintage Castro in his first start of Hyundai A-League Season 2018/19 but Glory fans will have noticed the flashes of brilliance which the Spanish master is famous for.

After a pair of substitute appearances convinced Popovic that the time was right to throw the 36-year-old playmaker back into the mix, Castro took the responsibility to drive Glory forward at every opportunity.

Castro touch map
Castro's touch map shows the freedom he was entrusted with to roam the nib Stadium pitch

Operating in a more central role than he was often deployed by Perth’s previous coach Kenny Lowe, Castro was allowed to drop deep to ignite Perth's passing but without the defensive duties of backing up his full-back.

It seems Glory’s 5-3-2 system is designed to get the best from the magician by leaving a strong structure in place even if he is caught out of position high up the field.

Captain Castro may not yet have returned to full match fitness, but his combinations with Ikonomidis and Andy Keogh are already starting to show and it was Glory’s three musketeers who contributed to the decisive goal.

Later in the game, Castro and Ikonomidis were smart enough to create shooting opportunities for themselves and, when presented with a chance to take aim, they made sure City goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic had to work to keep the ball out of the net.

That type of experience and composure ultimately reflected in the result. Popovic leaves nib Stadium wondering how good this league-leading Glory team can be, while Joyce walks away searching for answers.

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This article was originally published on the Hyundai A-League website.