There were many factors that Melbourne City players could have drawn upon for their A-League clash with Newcastle: their tight race for third place, finding personal form, and with it a spot in the finals for Michael Valkanis’ team.
Even before the first whistle, it was clear what was motivating the City side when the entire squad and coaching staff emerged from the AAMI Park tunnel wearing shirts in tribute to fallen teammate Fernando Brandan.
The enigmatic Argentinian ruptured his ACL in training and won’t be seen on the pitch again until 2018.
The inspiration worked as City were the only side in the contest for much of the night, scoring three goals in the final half-hour to finish 4-0 winners.
Captain Bruno Fornaroli, who scored twice, ran to grab his tribute shirt and held it to the sky when he netted his first goal.
Valkanis revealed after the match that the move was conceived by the players.
“He’s a special person. He’s passionate. He’s a crowd favourite but also a player favourite because he gives everything,” Valkanis said.
“The boys just wanted to show how important he is to the group.
“He was thrilled and that excited after the game. He had a smile from ear to ear. It was great to get the 4-0 result for him as well.”
The entire playing squad and support staff huddled in a circle after the match, when goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen delivered a battle cry to the group, and the three points could be crucial.
City (36 points) are in a dogfight with Brisbane (33 points and a game in hand) and Perth (32).
Third place wins a home final and a match-up with a noticeably weaker sixth-place finisher – and a guarantee to avoid premiers-elect Sydney FC until the grand final.
For City, that could mean a semi-final with heated rivals Melbourne Victory, who defeated them 3-0 in the same match in 2015.
Valkanis said he was pleased to see his side “execute the strategy”.
“They were clinical,” he said. “There probably could have been more goals but we’re very happy with the performance, very happy with the three points.
“We need to find the momentum going into finals.”