Melbourne City did what was needed to defeat Melbourne Victory 2-1 in the third and final Melbourne Derby of the season at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Taking the lead in just the eighth minute of play after Adrian Luna set up Florin Berenguer to fire home, City comfortably absorbed Victory’s attacks throughout much of the contest – the visitors lacking a clear plan of penetration – and made it 2-0 with a rapid-fire counter-attack fired home by Jamie Maclaren in the 71st minute.
A howler from Tom Glover against an Ola Toivonen free-kick restored some hope to Carlos Salvachúa’s side, but it wasn’t enough to spur an unlikely comeback as City evened up the Melbourne Derby season-series at one win apiece.
With a win in a big game finally secured and the gap between themselves and top of the table Sydney reduced to 10 points, City will get set to make a trip across the Tasman to take on high-flying Wellington Phoenix.
A bye week awaiting them next A-League round, Victory will get set to welcome Thai side Chiangrai United on Tuesday night as they look to maintain their good run of Asian form going.
THIS IS OUR CITY 🔵🔴⚪ pic.twitter.com/4aMcXP1S2N— Melbourne City FC 🏙️ (@MelbourneCity) February 7, 2020
In front of 16,872 fans, City got off to an excellent start.
Following extended possession between City’s back four, right-back Nathaniel Atkinson bypassed Victory’s pressing attack and midfield with a ball chipped over the top to Adrian Luna on the right flank, who in turn deftly flicked the ball beyond an out of sorts Carrigan and burst down the touchline.
Cutting inside, the Uruguayan feinted as though he was going to feed a run of Maclaren before instead driving a central pass to Berenguer. Though his first touch was heavy, the Frenchman had been afforded enough time by Luna’s trickery to gather himself and fire home his first A-League goal.
Victory looked to respond three minutes later when James Donachie nodded on a Migjen Basha cross, but it could only find Ola Toivonen offside in the six-yard box.
It was a rare notable chance for Melbourne’s navy-blue side, who struggled to break down City’s defence to create clear chances despite having the majority of first-half possession, their attacks instead defined by their chaotic nature.
Though they didn’t have more of the ball, City seemed to be displaying more purpose as they sat back; content to weather a less than fierce storm before launching forward in response.
"We respected the plan [City prepared] and the also we had also a good defensive control," Erick Mombaerts said post-game. "We have an offensive style of play but sometimes you need to be strong defensively. We were strong defensively and that’s good.
"[Counter-attacking] was our plan. We had experience with Victory that their play is based on when we lose the ball, when we lose the ball they have fast players and have fast counterattack. So we didn’t want to expose ourselves so we adapted our gameplan."
Storm Roux was unable to get a header from a Basha corner on target in the 25th minute, before an indirect free kick hammered in by Toivonen on the half an hour mark careened off Tim Hoogland, the post and the back of Glover before settling in the hands of the City keeper.
“City dropped and they were really compact," Salvachua said post-game.
"And it was really difficult for us to operate."
City perhaps should have made it 2-0 in the 33rd minute when Atkinson stole the ball from Adama Traore, burst down the right flank and drove a cross into Craig Noone. The Englishman, though, was tardy with his efforts to square up and Donachie was able to get back in time to block the ball away.
Moments after Victory had shouts for a handball in the box waved away, City flashed danger signs in the 53rd minute when Noone dinked a loopy cross into the six-yard box. Intended target Luna – all 169cm of him – was never likely to win an aerial battle and Hoogland headed clear.
The addition of Robbie Kruse and Marco Rojas in the 55th minute served to provide the vocal Victory end with some hope, with the former testing Glover in the 65th minute with a long-range effort and engaging in a bit of argy-bargy with Luna moments later.
The Victory fans, the decibel levels rising, were clearly beginning to believe but they were silenced in the 71st minute when City pounced on a loose pass from Traore and broke quickly in transition in a move that ended with Berenguer backheeling a pass into the path of Maclaren to fire home.
However Victory's hope was renewed in the 78th minute when Toivonen, after Rojas won a free kick on the edge of the area, put in a relatively tame free-kick that should have been a simple save from Glover.
Yet, inexplicably, the City keeper promptly dropped the ball into his own net – sending the fans behind him into raptures.