Melbourne City sent a message of intent to their Hyundai A-League Championship rivals with a commanding display in a 2-0 win against newly-crowned Premiers Sydney FC.
Craig Noone opened the scoring on 57 minutes and Jamie Maclaren fired himself to the top of the Golden Boot charts with his 19th goal of the campaign on 68 minutes as a free-flowing City attack dismantled a lacklustre Sky Blues outfit.
Sydney FC had secured the Premiers Plate after Wellington Phoenix dropped points on Monday night but Steve Corica’s team struggled to find any rhythm against a City side that were returning to the pitch for the first time since the restart, some 131 days since their previous match.
Sydney’s goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne kept the Harbour City outfit in touching distance, making six first-half saves as City attackers Maclaren, Adrian Luna, Lachie Wales and Florin Berenguer teased and tormented Sydney’s defence, but neither of the competition’s two highest scoring clubs could force a first-half breakthrough.
But the Sky Blues’ resistance would not last after a missed interception by Paulo Retre allowed Noone to sneak in behind the Sydney defence and finally beat Redmayne, before Maclaren robbed possession from Ryan McGowan and made the Premiers-elect pay the price for another moment of sloppiness with a clinical finish.
That effort edges the Socceroos marksman one goal ahead of Sydney’s Adam Le Fondre in the race for the Golden Boot after the English frontman was forced to feed off scraps for 90 minutes at ANZ Stadium. Erick Mombaerts' second-placed side surge three points clear of third-placed Wellington and take a step closer to clinching a first-round bye in the Finals Series.
Corica made two enforced changes in the full-back positions following the defeat to Newcastle last Tuesday and the Sky Blues were exposed down their right side in the first minute. With Rhyan Grant missing to a groin injury, Adrian Luna took advantage of an out-of-position Retre but Maclaren could only redirect the Uruguayan’s cross straight at Redmayne.
Alex Baumjohann almost forced his way through the City backline and Sky Blues gloveman Redmayne was forced to punch away Noone’s delivery as the Hyundai A-League’s two top scoring teams traded early attacks. Luke Brattan skied a 25-yard free-kick after another dangerous Baumjohann charge and the back-and-forth action continued.
City began to seize control as Berenguer freed Maclaren, with the Socceroo stinging the palm of Redmayne on 13 minutes and, moments later, Noone’s dipping effort was touched over the crossbar by the fingertips of the Socceroos shot-stopper.
A chance passed McGowan by after Baumjohann’s free-kick found its way through the City defence, and Redmayne was called on again to throw out a stray leg and deny Berenguer’s strike, which spun teasingly wide as Corica's men breathed a sigh of relief.
The Sky Blues were clinging on as the clock passed the half hour mark, as Luna broke through on goal and Redmayne came to the rescue once again with a low block, and another chance flashed in front of Maclaren's eyes after Harrison Delbridge's header dropped in the six-yard box on the brink of half-time.
Brattan showed deft footwork to open up space for a half-volley that flew narrowly over as Sydney showed some intent after the break but Scott Jamieson offered a quick response for City, curling an attempt off target within the first five minutes of the restart. And the moment City had been threatening arrived when Retre's missed interception allowed Noone to slot an angled strike past a stranded Redmayne on 57 minutes.
Despite the set-back, Sydney FC fashioned an opportunity to level the scores as the clock ticked past the hour when Le Fondre’s cross found Kosta Barbarouses open at the far post. But the Kiwi forward lost his composure with the goal gaping, and slipped as City scrambled the ball away.
Eight minutes later, City were out of sight when a lapse in concentration by McGowan allowed Maclaren to race through on goal and the 27-year-old made no mistake when confronted one-on-one by Redmayne. The second goal killed the game as a contest as City substitute Connor Metcalfe lifted over a chance to add a third.
- Adelaide United v Sydney FC
When: Thursday, August 6
Where: ANZ Stadium
Kick-off: 7.30pm (AEST)
- Melbourne City v Adelaide United
When: Tuesday, August 11
Where: ANZ Stadium
Kick-off: 7.30pm (AEST)