Melbourne City FC closed the gap at the top Hyundai A-League table with a memorable 3-2 win over Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday night.
In a contest played at a ferocious pace and intensity, City made a dream start to the match in the 8th minute when Novillo fired home a sensational free-kick from the edge of the penalty area.
League top scorer Bruno Fornaroli doubled City’s advantage in the 24th minute with a sensational curling effort, until the Wanderers’ fought back to level the scores courtesy of a long-range Mitch Nichols strike and an own goal from Aaron Hughes.
But it was Novillo who was the hero five minutes from time, completing his double with a sensational strike from outside the box to snap the Wanderers' 10 match unbeaten streak and move City to within four points of the top of the table.
Here are the five things we learned from the exciting clash at AAMI Park:
City pass top-four challenge
Facing a red hot Western Sydney outfit determined to continue its 10 match unbeaten streak, Saturday night’s clash at AAMI Park presented City with an opportunity to make a statement against one of the competition's heavyweights.
It was a test that John van’t Schip’s men passed with flying colours. The opening half hour saw City move the ball with purpose and precision, racing to a 2-0 lead courtesy of some individual brilliance from Harry Novillo and Bruno Fornaroli.
But it was the grit and determination shown to defy a relentless Wanderers outfit in the second half which is all the more pleasing. Goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen atoned for his earlier error with a number of crucial saves to thwart Romeo Castelen and Mark Bridge, until Novillo produced another moment of magic with a superb late goal to end the Wanderers unbeaten run.
Fornaroli continues goal-scoring form
The Uruguayan continued his amazing start to his maiden campaign, netting his 12th goal from only 14 matches with a sensational strike against Western Sydney.
With a record of 0.86 goals per match, El Tuna’s scoring ratio is impressive. But it is not only Fornaroli’s predatory instincts which make him one of the competition’s leading forwards. His strength and balance allows him to shield the ball from defenders and bring other attackers into play, while his immense technical quality gives him the ability to control the ball in tight situations; all ideal qualities expected of an effective centre-forward.
Novillo gathering strength
While all the focus is on the goal scoring exploits of Fornaroli, talismanic winger Harry Novillo continued his explosive run of form with a match-winning double against Western Sydney.
Since returning from a serious hamstring injury which ruled him out for eight weeks, the Frenchman has soared up the Golden Boot charts with six goals from 10 matches, while also turning provider on numerous occasions with four assists.
The Frenchman has been damaging out on the left throughout the season, but has come into his own in a more central role next to Fornaroli after John van’t Schip’s switch to a 3-5-2 formation.
Against the Wanderers, all of Novillo’s qualities were on display. He demonstrated his elite dead ball ability with a searing free-kick to open the scoring after seven minutes, before making a trademark jinking run from the left to seal all three points with a sensational long-range effort past Redmayne.
Were Wanderers denied a goal?
Even though Novillo's stunning late goal is a strike worthy of all the headlines, a key talking point from Saturday night’s match was referee Jarred Gillett’s decision to deny Western Sydney what would have been a controversial winner.
The Wanderers thought they had completed a remarkable turnaround 13 minutes from time when referee Gillett allowed Western Sydney to quickly take a free-kick before defender Patrick Kisnorbo could move back into position.
The City captain was dragged out of position after being called by Gillett to discuss the previous foul, with Wanderers striker Mark Bridge slotting the ball past Thomas Sorensen via the space Kisnorbo was previously occupying.
But after conferring with his linesman, Gillett called play back after deeming that the free kick was taken too quickly, and in any case blew his whistle a second time before Bridge struck the ball.
City were disadvantaged by the early restart and Gillett consulted his assistant before restarting play from the original free kick, with common sense prevailing.
Zullo a step closer to a full return.
After a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to injury, the return of defender Michael Zullo is a welcome boost to City’s defensive stocks.
With Head Coach John van’t Schip adopting a cautious approach to the defender’s return to Hyundai A-League football, the former Socceroos left-back followed up his return to first-team action with another impressive cameo off the substitute’s bench against the Wanderers, engaging in some neat interplay with Harry Novillo on the left-flank and utilizing his pace in the final-third with some attacking overlapping runs.
Now with some valuable first-team minutes under his belt, Zullo will be determined to make an impact in his first season at the Club.