Melbourne City FC is within touching distance of its first ever Hyundai A-League Grand Final appearance after Warren Joyce’s side secured progression to the Semi Final with a 2-0 win over Brisbane Roar at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Stefan Mauk proved to be the thorn in Brisbane’s side for the third time this season after clipping home his fifth goal of the campaign on the hour mark, following some magnificent play from Bruno Fornaroli in the build-up.
Substitute Nick Fitzgerald put the icing on the cake in stoppage time with the game sealing goal as City deservedly ensured progression to the last four after a dominant home display.
In doing so, Joyce’s side will travel to the Hunter Valley to face Newcastle Jets in the Semi Final at McDonald Jones Stadium; a venue where City has claimed maximum points from its two league fixtures this season.
Joyce took an unchanged starting line-up into his first Finals fixture on Australian soil, with captain Michael Jakobsen ruled out for the second successive week with a quad injury.
Defender Scott Jamieson assumed the captain’s armband in the Dane’s absence, while marquee midfielder Marcin Budzinski returned to the bench in place of Bruce Kamau.
Joyce’s side had already enjoyed two wins against the Roar this season and the opening quarter of an hour of the match brought hope that another would follow, with City laying siege to the Roar goal in an electric start to the contest.
Daniel Arzani was the chief architect of City’s first clear opportunity on goal inside seven minutes. The winger dashed into the penalty area in trademark fashion before the ball fell to the feet of Dario Vidosic, whose curling effort was smartly parried out of the bottom corner by Roar ‘keeper Jamie Young.
In Arzani, Vidosic and Bruno Fornaroli, City had an attacking trio who looked well in the mood, with the Uruguayan firing a warning shot wide of Young’s goal only moments later.
The link up play between Arzani and Fornaroli in particular brought the crowd to its feet in the 25th minute, as the duo carved up the Roar defence with a neat one two before Arzani whistled an effort from close range over the bar
City couldn’t translate its first half dominance onto the scoreboard but came ever so close to breaking the deadlock through an unlikely source in the 28th minute.
Fornaroli was clumsily fouled by Massimo Maccarone on the edge of the penalty area, with Jamieson’s free-kick finding Osama Malik unmarked at the back post, but the defender headed wide when he should have scored.
The boys in City Blue had plenty of joy down the right flank as Arzani and Nathaniel Atkinson ran at the Brisbane defence with energy. Their endeavour saw City create three chances to score inside 30 seconds, the first of which saw Stefan Mauk’s shot inadvertently blocked by Fornaroli.
The Uruguayan couldn’t connect with Atkinson’s fizzed cutback seconds later, before Mauk saw another shot diverted out for a corner by a scrambling Brisbane defence.
The visitors remained surprisingly pragmatic as the game wore on, with City ‘keeper Dean Bouzanis largely untested as the Roar were only restricted to two long range efforts from Maccarone and Fahid Ben Khalfallah.
The onslaught continued in the second half as Joyce’s side created a plethora of chances, with Arzani missing a golden opportunity to break the deadlock after getting his feet tangled at the back post in his attempt to connect with Vidosic’s inch-perfect cross.
The tension rose within AAMI Park as chance after chance went begging for the home side, but City remained patient and were rewarded with the game’s opening goal on the hour mark as Mauk rifled in Fornaroli’s cut-back after superb pressure from the Uruguayan to force the turnover.
City, with the full force of the home crowd behind them, had the wind in their sails as Arzani was denied superbly by Young at the near post, until the visitors finally sparked into action.
Maccarone looked the Roar's most promising avenue to goal and the Italian came close with an acrobatic volley in the 70th minute, before heading just wide of Bouzanis’ post as the Roar searched for a ticket back into the contest.
A moment of controversy nearly proved costly for City, who had shouts for a penalty waved away when Mauk was brought down inside the area by Franjic. The VAR deliberated and the initial decision stood, all while Roar substitute Corey Gameiro came with inches of equalising with a low shot at the other end.
Arzani came off to a standing ovation from the City faithful after running the Brisbane defence ragged all evening. His replacement, Fitzgerald, came on with the intention of capitalising on the visitors tired legs at the back.
He did just that. Moment’s after Vidosic missed a golden chance to make it 2-0, Fitzgerald put the icing on the cake in injury time to seal a deserved win and maintain City's charge towards its maiden Grand Final appearance.