Melbourne City was the last team to return to A-League action, kicking off their short end-of-season campaign against the newly crowned premiers Sydney FC.
A tremendous game of football – and a tremendous advert for the A-League – came to a thrilling end after almost 98 minutes as Melbourne City held on to defeat Perth Glory 3-2.
This tie saw the match-up between the best of the rest, the two sides closest to runaway league leaders Sydney FC in the standings, and the contest certainly lived up to its billing.
Under the draining Western Australian heat, it was testament to Glory and City’s motivation that this game never ceased to slow down in its energy and tempo. Glory had 16 shots throughout. City replied with nine of their own. It was an end-to-end battle but City had threatened to gallop free after a thunderous first-half performance.
Within the space of ten minutes, the away side blasted their hosts with three goals. Makeshift centre back Rostyn Griffiths found the opener before Florin Berenguer curled a beautiful shot into the top corner. Markel Susaeta then managed to stay onside to sweep a cross into an empty net, seemingly putting City out of sight.
How football can change in an instant, though, and how that cliche ‘a game of two halves’ is often true. Glory must have received a mighty earful from coach Tony Popovic during the break because they came out for the second half with a conviction and menace that was sadly missing from their game prior.
Within ten minutes of the restart, Joal Chianese had got the momentum started, and almost immediately there was a notable tension coming from those in a City shirt. It was unsurprising, then, when Bruno Fornaroli’s simple finish had the ecstatic home crowd sensing blood.
A whole paragraph could be devoted to the orchestral performance of Diego Castro for Glory, such was his class and quality. He prodded and probed at the City defence, constantly finding space, and constantly envisioning things that no one else could on the pitch.
He smashed a delightful volley against the left post, which deserved to restore parity, and if anyone in purple deserved at least a point from this tie, it was their captain. City, to their detriment, completely caved in the second 45. There was a lot riding on this game, admittedly, but the way they conceded possession and impetus to Glory bordered on sheer cowardice.
Glory came increasingly close to grabbing the equaliser but Tom Glover in the away goal produced two stunning stops with his fingertips to claim the victory for his side. After the excitement had died down, City remain in second place, ten points behind Sydney (with the latter having two games in hand, however).
As the campaign comes closer to its denouement, they now have a six-point cushion over this evening’s opponents but the in-form Wellington Phoenix split them in third place, only three points behind City but with a crucial game in hand. The race for second is far from over.
City and Phoenix both find themselves with home ties next weekend – against Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory respectively – but Glory have the unenviable task of travelling to play Sydney and if they don’t prove up to it, they could see second grow further out of reach.