A-League Report: City 2-2 Newcastle

Melbourne City have come from a goal behind twice in their Australia Day Eve Clash against the Jets on Thursday night, the two sides playing out a highly entertaining 2-2 draw at AAMI Park.  

A Daniel Arzani penalty, his first goal at A-League level, in the 43rd minute cancelled out Nikoai Topor-Stanley’s 3rd minute opener, before a Dario Vidisic strike in the 82nd would salvage a point for City after Jason Hoffman put the Jets ahead once again in the 70th minute.

The 7790 fans in attendance at AAMI Park were treated to one of the games of the 2017/18 A-League season, with both sides creating numerous chances throughout the game.

Arzani would once again play a starring role for City, not only grabbing his first goal for the club but serving as a creative catalyst on numerous occasions before his 74th minute substitution.

Despite only being able impose themselves on the game in patches - City would control possession at an almost 60-40% split - the Jets were sparked by Pato Rodriguez, the 27-year-old Argentine creating many a chance for the Jets.

STARTING XI

Coming into the game off a 5-0 victory and on a run of form that had seen his side take 10 of a possible 12 points on offer over the last four games, continuity was the name of the game for Head Coach Warren Joyce, the gaffer only making two changes to his Starting XI. 

Nathaniel Atkinson departed the XI, the 18-year-old unavailable after damaging ligaments in his ankle in the win over Adelaide, whilst Bart Schenkeveld was forced to watch from the stands after collecting his fifth yellow card in the game against the Reds.

Taking their place in the Starting XI was Harrison Delbridge, who returned from serving a one match suspension from the red card he picked up in the draw against the Central Coast, and Manny Muscat, who had replaced the injured Atkinson as a substitute on Sunday.

Ruon Tongyik and Bruce Kamau also made their return to the squad, starting on the bench after returning to City from international duty.

What Happened?

Coming into the contest keen to make amends for their 3-2 loss to the Wellington Phoenix in the previous round, the Jets started the contest like a proverbial house on fire, netting the games first goal in only the third minute of play.

After his initial free kick was punched back out by Dean Bouzanis, Rodriguez would fake out  a defnding Arzani twice before floating a ball into a waiting pack inside the penalty area.

Jets central defender Topor-Stanley would rise unmarked to meet it, driving his header past Bouzanis to give the Jets the early 1-0 lead.

It was the worst possible start for City, who would grab the game’s next clear chance as they sought to respond.

Collecting the ball in the midfield, Luke Brattan would launch a driving run forward before slicing a switching ball through the Jets defense to Arzani on the right wing.

Forced to go right by Jets left back Ivan Vujica, Arzani would shoot low and hard, almost sneaking the ball under Jets goalkeeper Jack Duncan, however the Jets shotstopper got enough body on the ball to keep it out.

The battle between Arzani and Vujica was one of the standout battles of the opening stages, City’s 19-year-old wonderkid and the Jets 20-year-old left back going back and forth as they sought to get one over on the other.

Despite giving up a relatively straightforward header for the game’s first goal, it appeared that City had not learned their lesson, when in the 18th minute they would give up a free header in their own penalty area, this time to Benjamin Kantarovski.

Perhaps fooled by the initial dummy from Andrew Nabbout, the City defence completely lost the Jets midfielder as he ghosted into the box, and they were fortunate that his header from Rodriguez cross was straight into the waiting arms of Bouzanis.

Rodriguez would be proving to be real thorn in City’s side in the earlier stages of the contest, beating Brattan off the dribble before launching a shot from just outside the area that sailed just to the left of the goal.

Under pressure early from a fired-up Jets team that had clearly knocked them back on their heels, City would look to counter, soon creating a period of sustained pressure against the Jets in which they would do everything but score.

The first chance of this period came from a set piece, Arzani and Brattan combining well on a series of dinky passes outside the Jets box before Arzani would be clattered into by Topor-Stanley, earning City a free kick and the Jets defender a yellow card.

Stepping up to take it in place of regular set-piece specialist Ross McCormack, who was starting on the bench for the second straight as he looked to return to full fitness, Scott Jamieson would curl a beautiful effort towards the target; only for the ball to clatter off the bar.

A follow up effort from captain Michael Jakobsen at the back post saved by a miraculous piece of goalkeeping from Duncan.

A minute later City would actually put the ball over the goal line, only to be denied by that now familiar object of controversy, the VAR.

Harrison Delbridge would rise above two Jets defenders to nod Jakobesen’s squaring header past Duncan, with the quick-thinking Jets keeper dragging the ball back into play before it had a chance to continue into the net.

VAR sprung into action, with replays clearly showing that Delbridge’s headed effort had crossed the line, however the Video Assistant Referee also adjudged the City centre back to have illegally impinged upon the Jets defenders as he leapt, with the resulting decision being the awarding of a free kick to the Jets.  

In the 35th Arzani and Marcin Budzinski would combine to give City another effort on goal, only for Duncan to once again prove his worth as he denied Budzinski’s long range effort to keep the Jets ahead.

City were clearly gaining the ascendency in possession as the game neared half time, easily repulsing Jets attempts to counter and pressing their opponents hard for the equalizer.

And the equalizer would finally come for City late in the half, when in the 42nd minute a careless lunge from the Jets Daniel Georgevski would bring down Stefan Mauk in the area for a clear penalty.

With McCormack still sitting on the bench, Arzani would step up to take it, taking a cheeky stuttering run up before putting the ball into the bottom corner to bring City level, and open his A-League account.

Going into the break at 1-1 City would have been disappointed, with their dominance to end the first half perhaps worth more than the one goal they had mustered. 

Shrugging this off, City resumed the second looking to continue their momentum, with half time substitute McCormack using his first touch on the park in the 46th minute to launch an audacious chipped attempt that Duncan had to backtrack to keep out of his net.

Arzani had supplied the ball to create that chance, and he would set up City’s next effort on goal when he played the ball to Brattan outside the penalty area; with Brattan launching a long-range effort from the pass that would just clatter of the crossbar and back into play.

Despite being kept somewhat quiet, the Jets would grab their first chance of the half in the 52nd minute of play, a cross into the edge of the area ping ponging off the heads of two Jets players before Nabbout lashed a dangerous looking volley goalward that went just wide of the post.

The second half was proving to be just as action packed as the first, with both City and the Jets creating chance after chance to take the lead: Brattan hitting the post in the 55th minute, Vidosic having a strong header brilliantly saved by Duncan in the 58th and Nabbout forcing Bouzanis to parry the ball over the cross bar for a corner in the 63rd minute.   

The Jets would be the first to convert one of their chances though, when in the 70th minute, in a move that came against the run of play, Jason Hoffman would restore their one goal lead.

Finding himself on the ball inside the area after some great build up work from Riley McGree, who had come on as a substitute on the hour mark, Nabbout would launch a low and hard shot across Bouzanis, with the City keeper only able to parry the ball back into play.

Waiting for the rebound was Hoffman, the former City man getting a foot on the ball to poke it into the net.

With a win enough to bring them to within a point of the Jets on the A-League table, and a loss leaving them venerable to being overhauled by rivals the Victory, the pressure was now heaped upon City - with Joyce bring on Nick Fitzgerald and Bruce Kamau in an effort to inject his tiring side with some pace.

However it was Brattan, not the new additions, that ultimately created City’s equalizer - the central midfielder finding the ball in the centre of the park before running into prime real-estate on the right wing and launching the ball into the area.

The cross found it’s way to the head of Vidosic, City's newest signing rising at the back post to turn the ball in with his head and tie the game up at 2-2.

With time ticking away, McCormack – who was possibly be making his last appearance in a City shirt with his loan deal from Aston Villa set to expire at midnight – would be presented with a golden chance to win the game for City with almost the last kick of the game.

Running clean through on goal, the Scot would spy an onrushing Duncan and strike a deft chip that cleared the Jets keeper and begin to bounce towards goal.

It appeared that McCormack had indeed won it for City, however a desperate Steven Ugarkovic would sprint towards the line and clear the ball just before it could cross the threshold to keep the game tied up.

What’s Next?

After finishing their busiest stretch of the season with tonight’s draw, City be afforded some much-needed recovery time before they next run out, with their next game not until Sunday, February 4.

On that night Joyce’s side will head north, set to take on the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium, with kick-off scheduled for 7:00 AEDT.