Melbourne City FC produced a stirring second-half comeback to record a commanding 4-1 win over the Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park on Sunday evening.
Despite being in utter control for majority of the contest, City found themselves under pressure when Mitch Austin fired home after a swift counter-attack to give Tony Walmsley’s side a 1-0 lead into the half-time break.
But City roared back with a scintillating second-half display of football, with goals to Patrick Kisnorbo, Ben Garuccio and a brace to Aaron Mooy ensuring John van’t Schip's side remained within touching distance of the top of the Hyundai A-League table.
A difficult evening for the Mariners - who were deprived of marquee man Luis Garcia - was compounded when defender Storm Roux was stretchered from the ground with a severe injury, while Fabio Ferreira left the visitors undermanned with five minutes to play after being dismissed for a second yellow card.
City headed into the clash having beaten the Mariners on both occasions this season and with Brisbane and Western Sydney dropping points in their respective Round 20 fixtures, van’t Schip’s side knew it represented a golden opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table.
The home side immediately stamped its authority on the contest and were in total control from the first whistle, creating numerous first-half goalscoring opportunities against a Central Coast outfit content on defending deep and absorbing pressure on the counter attack.
Retre was lively in midfield during the early stages of the match and came agonisingly close to opening the scoring after just seven minutes, unleashing a curling effort narrowly wide of Paul Izzo’s left hand post.
City continued to probe forward with great intensity and Fornaroli had Izzo rooted to the spot only nine minutes later, however the Uruguayan’s swerving effort sailed inches wide of the post.
The Mariners’ shot-stopper then made a sensational save to keep his side on level terms in the 20th minute, backpedalling rapidly to tip a clever backwards header from Nick Fitzgerald over the crossbar after a superb chipped ball from Aaron Mooy.
For all City’s early first-half dominance, the effort was not yet translated onto the scoreboard, and the hosts paid the ultimate price when the Mariners stunned the home crowd in the 34th minute with the opening goal.
A quick break from a dangerous City corner saw the pacey Austin spring clear in behind the defence from inside his own half. When it comes to a foot race, Austin is seldom caught and the Englishman finished with aplomb past Sorensen at the near post to give his side the lead against the run of play.
Fornaroli had a golden chance to level the scores almost immediately but could only send his free header straight into the midriff of Izzo, while referee Stephen Lucas waved away claims for a penalty when Garuccio was brought down inside the area by Roux, as City entered the break down, but not disheartened.
City began the second half at a similar intensity to the first and were on level terms only three minutes after the restart. It was captain Kisnorbo to the rescue, evading his marker to nod an inch-perfect free-kick from Mooy past Izzo for his second goal for the season – ironically, both of which have come against the Mariners.
There was a collective sense of relief reverberating around AAMI Park following Kisnorbo’s equalizer, as City threw down the gauntlet with an incessant second-half onslaught on the Mariners goal.
Golden Boot leader Fornaroli found himself in an excellent position to fire City into the lead in the 52nd minute after latching on to a fizzing cross from Fitzgerald at the back post, but the Uruguayan got tangled up in his own feet and could only dab a tame effort straight at Izzo.
It was an uncharacteristically difficult night at the office for Fornaroli, who only managed to produce an air swing only two yards out from goal, before Alex Wilkinson’s follow up bounced through a sea of defenders before cannoning off the post and into the arms of a grateful Izzo.
Despite a series of missed opportunities, City continued to push on in the final third and were eventually rewarded with an opportunity in the 57th minute to take the lead from the penalty spot – an opportunity which was nearly prevented by the brilliance of Izzo.
A neat through ball from Ivan Franjic released Fornaroli one-on-one with the Mariners ‘keeper, who stood up tall to repel the initial shot, before springing to his right to make a sensational save from Fitzgerald’s follow up effort.
The ball then fell out to Garuccio, whose effort was cleared off the line by a desperate Mariners defence, until Fitzgerald was eventually fouled inside the penalty area by Jacob Poscoliero.
Up stepped Aaron Mooy – after a lengthy 10 minute delay following a serious shoulder injury to Storm Roux – who emphatically smashed home the spot-kick into the top corner to give City the lead.
The floodgates opened when Garuccio made it 3-1 only three minutes later, this time latching onto a clever pass from Fornaroli before lashing home an effort past Izzo at the near post.
Fornaroli was determined to get onto the scoresheet but was twice thwarted by Izzo in quick succession, while substitute Jacob Melling nearly capped off his introduction with a sensational long range effort that cannoned off the crossbar.
The Mariners' misery was further compounded when Fabio Ferreira received his marching orders for a second yellow card, but it was Mooy who would put the icing on the cake in the 10th minute of stoppage time, drilling a trademark free-kick off the base of the post and into the net to cap off a sensational City comeback.
Hyundai A-League Round 20
Saturday, 21 February 2016
Melbourne City FC 4 (Patrick KISNORBO 48’, Aaron MOOY 66 ‘ [PEN], 100’, Ben GARUCCIO 69’)
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Mitchell AUSTIN 34’)
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: Stephen Lucas
Melbourne City FC line-up: 1. Thomas SORENSEN (GK), 2. Alexander WILKINSON, 5. Ivan FRANJIC, 8. Aaron MOOY, 11. Michael ZULLO, 18. Paulo RETRE (Jacob MELLING 79’), 19. Benjamin GARUCCIO (Wade DEKKER 86’), 23. Bruno FORNAROLI, 24. Patrick KISNORBO (C), 27. Nick FITZGERALD (Steve KUZMANOVSKI 84’), 33. Osama MALIK
Substitutes not used: 20. Dean BOUZANIS, 22. Jack CLISBY,
Yellow cards: Zullo 43’
Red cards: nil
Central Coast Mariners line-up: 1. Paul IZZO (GK), 2. Storm ROUX (Michael NEILL 66’), 3. Joshua ROSE, 4. Jacob POSCOLIERO, 5. Harry ASCROFT, 6. Mitchell AUSTIN (Bradley MCDONALD 90’, 7. Fabio FERREIRA, 8. Nick MONTGOMERY (C), 12. Trent BUHAGIAR (ADAM BERRY 74’), 16. Liam ROSE, 19. Josh BINGHAM
Substitutes not used: 13. Alistair BRAY (GK), 23. Tomislav USKOK,
Yellow cards: Poscoliero 42’, Ferreira 54’, Ferreira 85’
Red cards: Ferreira 85’