Melbourne City is out of the inaugural FFA Cup after going down 3-1 against Sydney FC in Ballarat.
Ninety minutes were not enough to separate the sides, as City’s Nick Kalmar cancelled out Corey Gameiro’s first-half opener with a header just after the hour mark. The game was destined for a penalty shootout, but City brought forward that prospect by conceding TWO spot kicks in the second period of extra time, both of which were duly converted by Sydney’s Ali Abbas. City right-back Jason Hoffman was sent off for his foul on Gameiro that resulted in the first penalty.
Overall, the result was probably fair. Sydney FC, in its first competitive match under new coach Graham Arnold, enjoyed large swathes of possession and looked more threatening in attack for much of the contest. The pacy Gameiro was a constant menace opposed to City centre-backs Patrick Kisnorbo and Rob Wielaert, while the experienced Sasa Ognenovski marshalled the Sydney defence superbly and looked comfortable in repelling City’s attacks. So what can City take out of the game?
The colours may have changed overnight, but many of the characteristics that seemed ingrained in Melbourne Heart’s playing style and psyche were still evident in the loss. We need to be careful about jumping to hard conclusions on a one game sample, but at the same time it was difficult not to recall some of the traits we’d grown accustomed to while watching Melbourne Heart over the past four years.
Our number one problem?
Our goalkeepers are a major concern, just as they were last year. Andrew Redmayne handed Sydney FC the lead – figuratively, of course, his hands never got near the ball – when he charged out of penalty area Manuel Neuer-style to challenge Gameiro, only to flail when the Sydney striker reached the ball first and slid the ball into an empty net. It was the sort of moment that would have had understudy Tando Velaphi mentally high-fiving himself, and will certainly intensify the battle for the number one gig this season. Redmayne should not be held responsible for the penalties, but I cannot recall him ever saving a spot kick with Melbourne Heart (or now City). Redmayne has never convinced that he’s City’s long-term answer between the sticks, and he only raised more questions against Sydney.
Clinical finishing is still a significant issue, with winger Mate Dugandzic the primary culprit. Dugandzic has never been ruthless in front of goal, and most of his efforts ended up in the crowd against Sydney. Dugandzic often finds himself in good positions – that’s a skill, no doubt – but he cannot continue to squander chances if he’s to remain a regular first-teamer. Leading marksman David Williams was fairly quiet as the lone striker, but City’s playing style did not do him many favours.
Spread your wings?
On the game plan, much of City’s build-up play took place on the wings, with Dugandzic and new recruit Damien Duff switching flanks regularly in the opening half. That duo and new left-back Iain Ramsay often found themselves in decent crossing positions, but without a genuine target to pick out in the centre; their delivery was not great either, in fairness. Williams is not renowned for his aerial prowess, and we can only hope that the rumours linking City with former Socceroo Josh Kennedy prove accurate, as he would be an ideal target man in this system. Like last year, City players also found themselves in reasonable shooting positions in and around the 18-yard box on multiple occasions, only to frustratingly look for a pass before considering a strike on goal. I hope The Melburnians kept Yarraside’s “JUST SHOOT” banner, we may need it again.
On a positive note, Aaron Mooy was probably City’s best player. The former Wanderer pulled the strings effectively in his playmaking role behind Williams, and his set piece delivery was solid, as evidenced by the pin-point free kick that Kalmar converted for City’s lone goal. Mooy was supported by the ever-tireless Massimo Murdocca, and Kalmar, deployed in a deeper position shielding the back four. This looms as a make-or-break year for Kalmar, and the Melbourne Heart foundation player put in a reasonable shift in the defensive role.
City boss John van ‘t Schip has shown a penchant for deploying wingers in the full-back positions throughout his two tenures with the club, with questionable levels of success. With Aziz Behich back in Turkey, the team has settled on two former wingers, Iain Ramsay and Ben Garuccio, to compete for the left-back position this season. The early returns were middling, with Ramsay booked for a rash challenge early in the game and looking far more comfortable in joining attacks than facing opposing wingers closer to his own goal. Garuccio, who replaced Ramsay during the game, conceded City’s second penalty deep in extra time. JvS has said that City’s final visa spot will probably be used on a “defensive” utility player, and we can only hope that eventual signing can help shore up the left side of City’s backline.
HAVE YOUR SAY: What did you make of City’s first performance? What were your positives/negatives?