It took David Villa less than 15 minutes to make his mark on the A-League.
After entering the action minutes after half time in place of surprise starter James Brown, the Spanish legend received Damien Duff's pass on the edge of the box on 63 minutes. Three touches later, the ball was in the back of the net, and City was level following Corey Gameiro's opener for Sydney FC.
The match finished all square at 1-1, and City should feel a little disappointed to have not emerged with all three points having dominated large swathes of the contest. In fact, as many City/Heart fans at the game remarked, it felt eerily similar to many a Heart game in the past, with the side, kitted out in the familiar red and white stripes, controlling the game without cashing in the possession and territorial superiority with goals.
Thankfully, we had a proven goal scorer to bail us out, and there was only going to be one outcome when Villa turned inside his opponent and fired home past Sydney keeper Vedran Janjetovic.
Villa was understandably rusty overall, having linked up with his new teammates less than a week ago and not played a meaningful game since finding the net against Australia at the World Cup in June. Deployed predominantly as a left-winger with Mate Dugandzic playing through the centre prior to youngster Marc Marino's introduction, the Spaniard's touch deserted him at times, and he certainly did not hassle opponents in possession as much as his teammates.
But as he has proven throughout his illustrious career, Villa needed just one sight of goal to have an impact, and he'll only improve as he gains match fitness in coming weeks.
Two of Melbourne City's other recruits stood out. Aaron Mooy was probably City's best player over the full 90 minutes, with the former Wanderer displaying his full range of passing and neat touches. Damien Duff also had an immensely encouraging debut. The Irishman played largely on the right, wreaking havoc against Sydney's inexperienced left side particularly in the second half. Both guys figure to have key roles in City's midfield and attacking third this season.
As for the other new players, James Brown hammered one shot against the crossbar early on before fading and eventually being replaced by Villa after half time, while Erik Paartalu had a solid game in front of the back four.
It was something of a surprise to see David Williams and Robi Koren absent from the squad, with John van 't Schip saying post-game that both had picked up minor injuries. Both could return next week.
Mate Dugandzic's finishing remains a huge issue. He spurned a golden chance in the first half, scuffing a shot when facing Janjetovic one-on-one. Dugandzic has perennially been a poor finisher, but with City's squad now boasting more attacking depth, more costly misses could see the jet-heeled winger deposed in the starting line-up by the likes of Duff, Koren and Williams.
Could Redmayne have done more to keep out Gameiro's goal? Could his positioning have been better? I'm no expert on goalkeepers, but I wonder whether Redmayne, who did get a hand on the shot, could have kept it out.
Last night's game was my first away experience with Melbourne City fans, and it was absolutely sensational. Starting at the Imperial Hotel with The Melburnians - what a great group! - the chants started early on and continued throughout the night at the game. Being the opening match of the season - and as Melbourne City - there were undoubtedly more City fans than usual for an away game, and the atmosphere created was terrific. If you're planning on taking in an away game this season, do yourself a favour and join the Melburnians for a day/night of fun! For home games, join us behind the goals.
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