Melbourne City Head Coach Erick Mombaerts has done all he can to avoid placing any extra pressure on his side ahead of their A-League semifinal against Western United.
City’s spotty form in big games is a well-known feature of the A-League at this point – one of the few defining features of the club that has carried over from the days when they were known as Melbourne Heart.
In their most recent knockout fixture, Mombaerts’s side wilted in the face of a hard-running Adelaide United side and hostile Coopers Stadium en route to a heavy 4-0 defeat.
When challenged once again by the Reds during the competition’s post-COVID period, City gave up a 2-0 lead and drew 2-2 after a red card to Craig Noone provided Carl Veart’s side to score two late goals.
The questions surrounding mentality, no doubt, are a source of frustration for players, coaches and administrators at the club, as well as the fans, but a line that will inevitably continue until City can prove otherwise.
“It is our biggest game, but I don’t want to put more pressure on them,” Mombaerts responded when subjected to the latest round of City mentality watch. “We have to enjoy playing the game.
“First, we have had a very good season, we’ve finished second.
“And it’s a special tournament. Maybe we can say the sixth position in the championship can win the finals, maybe a team 20 points behind Sydney can win.
“The most important thing is to be ready at the right moment, to be ready to play our style of play and play the way we want to play. That’s our message, play our style, enjoy playing in our style and try to find solutions against a good team.
“We have to respect all teams. But without pressure. It’s about enjoying reaching the semi-final and trying to enjoy and do our best football.”
If City is to shrug off their big game wobbles, they will do so without the services of captain Scott Jamieson, who has returned to Melbourne to be with his partner following the birth of the couple’s first child; Cooper.
His absence already felt as one of City’s better players, the void in leadership left by the 31-year-old is one that any A-League club would likely struggle to meet and Mombaerts admits that his side will just have to work around his exit.
“At the start, as we left Melbourne, we knew that we would have a lot of problems,” Mombaerts explained. “We have to face up and to do our best with our problems.
“The first was Markel Susaeta, then Jack Hendry and now Jamieson. We can’t complain about this, we have to do our best without our best players.
“I can’t complain. We have to find solutions and do our best.
“Jamo [Jamieson] is not here, we know that he is one of our mental leaders, he is our captain but now we’ve got Josh Brillante and Josh is strong and a good captain to substitute for Jamo.”
Yet despite the questions surrounding their headspace, City, heading into their do-or-die semifinal against Western, would seemingly have the odds stacked in their favour.
The side from Bundoora has yet to drop a single point against the expansion side in their three meetings so far this season and will come into Wednesday evening’s contest fresh – with no injuries to report and having played only three games since the A-League’s resumption.
Western, conversely, will have played seven times and, despite coach Mark Rudan’s insistence to the contrary, his veteran squad will no doubt be feeling the heavy workload coming up against a City side that likes to run and run and run.
“Some teams, maybe with experienced players, they prefer to play than maybe to train more,” Mombaerts said.
“[Rudan] knows better than me how his players are feeling. If he thinks that it’s better for them to play more games I can’t complain – because the results show that he is right.”