Melbourne City FC have surged into second place on the Hyundai A-League table with a sensational 2-1 win over rivals Melbourne Victory in an enthralling Melbourne Derby on Saturday night.
In arguably one of the most frantic and exciting derby clashes in recent history, John van’t Schip’s side continued its ruthless streak in front of goal when midfielder Stefan Mauk fired City into the lead inside the opening 20 minutes, diving bravely to nod home a pin-point cross from Ben Garuccio past Victory 'keeper Danny Vukovic.
City appeared to be running away with the contest when Paulo Retre doubled the advantage only ten minutes later, but as so often happens when local bragging rights are on the line, Victory fought back in valiant fashion - with talismanic striker Besart Berisha pulling a goal-back on the stroke of half-time.
A man who is no stranger to the fierce derby environment following his career in the English Premier League, it was City keeper Thomas Sorensen who rose to the occasion in the second-half, thwarting Berisha and co with a string of magnificent saves to ensure City entered the festive period with its fourth consecutive win.
Following injuries to Connor Chapman and Jacob Melling, Head Coach van’t Schip was forced to make two changes to the starting XI which swept aside Newcastle last week. Ben Garuccio’s inclusion at left-back saw Jack Clisby move into the centre of defence, while Paulo Retre replaced Jacob Melling in defensive midfield.
Northern Ireland international Aaron Hughes lined up on the substitutes bench after returning from a calf-injury, joining promoted youth team graduate Hernan Espindola.
With a crowd of 23,572 flocking to AAMI Park to witness the traditional pre-Christmas derby, both sides showed a visible sight of nerves in a cagey opening to proceedings; a pre-cursor to one of the most entertaining halves of football seen this season.
And City had its goalkeeper to thank for keeping the scores level inside 14 minutes, as Sorensen turned back the clock with his first crucial save of the night, flying to his left to tip a rasping drive from Berisha over the bar.
While majority of the pre-game talk centred around in-form attackers Harry Novillo, Aaron Mooy and Bruno Fornaroli, it was midfielder Stefan Mauk who broke the deadlock in the 20th minute in sensational fashion.
A bursting run from Garuccio saw the left-back cut inside the challenge of Leigh Broxham, before curling an inch-perfect cross into the six-yard area, which Mauk tucked away with aplomb past a stranded Vukovic to make it 1-0.
And before the crowd had a chance to let the opening goal sink in, City further increased its advantage in a sensational burst of play. It was Mooy who was the architect, playing in Mauk with a delightful ball.
The South Australian was quickly snuffed out by a desperate Victory defence, with Vukovic then parrying Fornaroli’s effort straight into the path of Retre, who fired home into an empty net to give City a decisive two goal cushion.
Berisha pulled one back for the Victory right on the stroke of half-time, finding space at the back post to nod home an arrowing cross past Sorensen to give his side renewed hope heading into the break.
And it was another moment of brilliance from Sorensen which prevented City from relinquishing its lead, showing spectacular reactions to tip a bullet header from Kosta Barbarouses onto the post, in what is likely to be a ‘save of the season’ contender.
The Great Dane showed great awareness to twice deny Berisha from one-on-one situations soon after, before parrying a trademark free-kick from Gui Finkler out of the corner.
The pace of Novillo was proving to be an constant outlet for City on the break, with the winger crashing an effort into the side netting after breaking clear into the box, before substitute David Williams came close to making it 3-1 with a header that just flew over the crossbar.
But it was a heart-stopping goalmouth scramble in the 80th minute which re-affirmed that it would indeed be City’s night. Ben Khafallah crashed an effort onto the crossbar, before substitute Archie Thomson was denied in quick succession inside the six yard area – first from a desperate block, and then the thigh of Sorensen.
Despite a late surge of pressure from Victory, City remained firm to hold on for a memorable Derby triumph.
Hyundai A-League Round 11
Saturday, 19 December 2015
Melbourne City FC 2 (Stefan MAUK 20’, Paulo RETRE 30’)
Melbourne Victory 1 (Besart BERISHA 45’)
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: Ben Williams
Melbourne City FC line-up: 1. Thomas SORENSEN (GK), 5. Ivan FRANJIC, 6. Erik PAARTALU, 8. Aaron MOOY, 9. Harry NOVILLO (Aaron HUGHES 86’), 18. Paulo RETRE (Robert KOREN 72’), 19. Benjamin GARUCCIO, 21. Stefan MAUK (David WILLIAMS 58’), 22. Jack CLISBY, 23. Bruno FORNAROLI, 24. Patrick KISNORBO (C).
Substitutes not-used: 20 Tando VELAPHI (GK), 30. Hernan ESPINDOLA
Yellow cards: Clisby 45+2’, Fornaroli 49’, Franjic 51’
Red cards: nil
Melbourne Victory line-up: 1. Danny VUKOVIC (GK), 2. Jason GERIA, 5.Daniel GEORGEVSKI, 6. Leigh BROXHAM (C), 7. Guilherme FINKLER, 8.Besart BERISHA, 9. Kosta BARBAROUSES (Archie THOMPSON 76’), 13. Oliver BOZANIC (Jesse MAKAROUNAS 66’), 14. Fahid BEN KHALFALLAH, 16. Rashid MAHAZI (Thomas DENG 55’), 17. Mathieu DELPIERRE.
Substitutes not used: 20. Lawrence THOMAS (GK),11. Connor PAIN,
Yellow cards: Mahazi 36’, Makarounas 82’
Red cards: nil