An under-manned Melbourne City FC outfit put in a determined display to register a 2-2 draw against Sydney FC in Round 13.
In an entertaining contest littered with goalscoring opportunities, it was City who absorbed a wave of pressure from Sydney to take the lead twice through Aaron Hughes and Bruno Fornaroli, until a double from Milos Ninkovic ensured both sides earned a share of the spoils.
Here are the five things we learned from the pulsating clash at AAMI Park:
Tactical tweak pays dividends
After losing star trio Aaron Mooy, Erik Paartalu and Ivan Franjic to injury prior to kick-off, Saturday’s contest was always going to be a tall order for a City side troubled by injury and suspension.
Sydney were in control for the first 34 minutes, with Andrew Hoole and Alex Gersbach in particular causing issues down the left hand side as Graham Arnold’s men created numerous goal scoring opportunities.
But it was an astute tactical tweak from van’t Schip which allowed City to settle and gain some much needed momentum.
The introduction of wing-back Michael Zullo saw the Dutchman switch from a preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-5-2, with Jack Clisby tucking in alongside central defenders Aaron Hughes and Patrick Kisnorbo to provide more support when the visitors penetrated through the middle.
City immediately looked a more settled unit. The five man defence quelled the threat posed by wide players Hoole and Gersbach, while winger Harry Novillo made a considerable impact when deployed as a central striker.
It was a shrewd change which highlight’s van’t Schip’s ability to adapt under pressure and demonstrates City’s tactical flexibility.
Novillo and Fornaroli a lethal combination
Is there a more damaging attacking partnership in the Hyundai A-League at present?
Deployed as a front two following the tactical switch to a 3-5-2 formation, the immense chemistry between the pair was on show for City’s second goal of the night. Novillo left Sydney defender Matt Jurman chasing shadows with a bursting run down the left, before drilling a teasing cross into the path of Fornaroli, who became the equal fastest player to reach 11 goals in Australian domestic league history with a sensational header past Vedran Janjetovic.
Novillo has also contributed to City’s free-scoring run with four goals and four assists for the season, stepping up to the plate in the absence of talisman Aaron Mooy with two assists against Sydney FC.
Sorensen spoils Sydney’s rampant attack
After a standout performance in the Melbourne Derby only two weeks ago, goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen was once again instrumental in between the posts against Sydney FC, saving his side on numerous occasions as Sydney piled on the pressure early in the first half.
The Great Dane showed superb reactions to beat away a stinging drive from Andrew Hoole at his near post, re-adjusted expertly to deny Milos Ninkovic with an outstretched leg and his sheer presence alone forced an oncoming George Blackwood to chip an effort over the crossbar when one-on-one with the big keeper.
Sorensen’s big game experience shone through for City once again, with a crucial save from substitute Christopher Naumoff in injury time capping off another superb performance and salvaging crucial point for his side.
Hughes makes his mark…in attack!
After enduring an interrupted start to life in Melbourne, Northern Ireland international Aaron Hughes made his mark in his first full 90 minutes for the Club against Sydney FC.
The 35-year-old settled and grew with confidence as the game wore on, utilising his vast experience gained from a glittering career in the English top flight.
But surprisingly, it was at the other end of the pitch where Hughes made a significant impact, rising highest to head home Harry Novillo’s swinging cross to give City the lead against the run of play.
With Connor Chapman out for an extended period and a place in Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad to play for, a fully fit Hughes will undoubtedly be a key member of City’s defence for the remainder of the season.
Top four clash looms
After picking up a valuable point in the 2-2 draw against Sydney, van’t Schip’s side face a stern test against an in-form Western Sydney Wanderers outfit.
Sitting in third position on the Hyundai A-League table, City are six points behind the second placed Wanderers – who only trail league leaders Brisbane Roar on goal difference – with Tony Popovic’s side arriving at AAMI Park on the back of a 10 game unbeaten streak, eight of which have been wins.
City have enjoyed a solid run of form since a 3-0 home reverse against Wanderers in Round 6 and with both sides in striking distance of top spot on the Hyundai A-League table, Saturday night’s clash provides van’t Schip’s men with another opportunity to cement the Club's credentials against another top-four opponent.