A late James Brown strike handed Melbourne City FC a hugely important win away from home against Sydney FC in Round 22 of the Hyundai A-League.
It was always going to be difficult; an away tie against the in-form team in the league and its record-breaking, golden boot-aspiring Austrian, Mark Janko. It was going to require a stoic, resilient performance.
David Williams and Josh Kennedy were out through injury and Harry Novillo (illness) were three high-profile exclusions, leaving Melbourne City FC to field a second-string side, with Head Coach John van’t Schip promoting two National Premier League players, Stefan Zinni and Nicholas Symoey to the bench for added depth.
With Sydney FC near full strength, it was arguably City’s biggest test of the season. But a late James Brown goal, fittingly his first of the campaign, gave a depleted Melbourne City all three points at Allianz Stadium.
Sydney entered the Harvey Norman Friday Night clash buoyed by a four-match winning streak, largely led by Janko’s record setting, seven-match scoring spree for the Premiers Plate hopefuls.
And it was the home side – and Janko – who looked the most likely to create the opener, with the Austrian inches away from handing Graham Arnold’s side the lead in the 10th minute.
Finding space to beat City’s captain Patrick Kisnorbo - who otherwise had a stellar outing, leading his side to a clean sheet – Janko unleashed a smart shot through the legs of the advancing Tando Velaphi, only to see his shot ricocheted back out off the inside of the post.
With chances few and far between, City made few break-throughs; Jonatan Germano headed over from a lovely Aaron Mooy through-ball, but industrious work from him and Robert Koren failed to produce in the final third.
Janko had a further chance, slicing a low shot wide of the target, before Chris Naumoff tried his luck from distance, delivering a deviating shot from range which lacked in execution to test Velaphi.
With an arm wrestle ensuing in midfield, neither side produced chances of note until Koren forced Sydney stopper Vedran Janjetovic into a finger-tip save from a dipping volley, tipping the opportunistic strike onto the cross bar.
That chance, and the half-time break, seemed to breath life into City’s make-shift attack and Mate Dugandzic was presented with a gilt-edged chance to open the scoring three minutes after the break.
An industrious run from Jonatan Germano breached Sydney FC’s defensive line, before his cut-back into a dangerous area was met by Dugandzic, who skied his effort over the bar.
The winger had plenty of time to pick his spot, but it was his own teammate in Koren who, also hungry for the ball and closing in on Germano’s cut back, appeared to distract Dugandzic who blazed over.
Dugandzic’s shot marked a 10-minute period of dominance for Melbourne City as they pressued Sydney in their own half and troubled them from a number of Mooy set-pieces.
But Sydney rallied and nearly snatched the lead in the 65th minute. Bernie Ibini used his strength and pace to outmuscle Kew Jaliens in defence before blasting a rasping shot at Velaphi who deflected the effort onto the upright with a crucial save.
Substitute Shane Smeltz then drove a dangerous chance from Dimitrijevic’s square ball wide of Velaphi’s upright, as City looked to cling on for a point.
But with 10 minutes to go, they secured more all three. A quick turnover, pass from Koren and a perfectly-weighted through-ball to Brown sent the striker through on goal.
As both City and Sydney fans held their collective breath, Brown broke into enough space to evade the advancing Janjetovic with his first touch, before slotting home into the empty net to leave a small but passionate group of travelling City fans in raptures and The Cove silent.
City began to wind down the clock and Velaphi entered the book for time wasting, while substitute midfielder Massimo Murdocca could have sealed the result with a deflected left-footed shot that needed a timely interception from three Sydney FC defenders, before flying agonsingly wide of the upright.
With four additional minutes added, City again had to ride a wave of Sydney FC pressure, but held on to secure back-to-back wins – ahead of next Saturday's crucial match against top-six hopefuls Brisbane Roar.
Hyundai A-League Round 22
Friday 20 March 2015
Sydney FC 0
Melbourne City FC 1 (James Brown, 81')
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Chris Beath