After what is surely the longest off-season in World Football, finally the World Game was back at AAMI Park. While this was supposedly “Melbourne City’s exciting first ever home game”, taking on the Newcastle Jets, a lot of the familiar traits of Melbourne Heart were still present – missed chances, domination of possession and an indisputable universal hatred of Kevin Muscat.
A year ago, at a time that the excitement around the impending arrival of seemingly-exotic striker Michael Mifsud was at its peak, the idea that a player the calibre of David Villa would be lining up for the club seemed about as likely as Maycon getting called up to the Seleção . With that said, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the City Football Group takeover and the resultant drastic makeover that the Club has undergone in recent months.
Obviously the takeover has come at a cost, with much derision over changes in the home kit; crest and the name change still a sore-point for many fans. Taking that into mind, there is also no doubt that the club has never been more attractive to the casual fan with David Villa in particular helping many ‘euro-snobs’ overcome their phobia of supporting something local. With the membership tally soon expected to pass 10,000 and a record non-derby crowd of 15,717, there is no doubt that the club is beginning to make serious waves in Melbourne’s sporting landscape.
There are certainly some challenges associated with this new hype; such as the snaking unexpected beer queues previously never experienced outside of a derby match; the first half was highlighted by the clubs age-old inability to actually get the ball in the back of the net. Despite dominating the play and creating several glaring chances, Melbourne City couldn’t find a way onto the score sheet. David Williams was most at fault spurring a one on one chance from just inside the penalty area created by some poor Newcastle defending.
However, Newcastle generally defended very well, blocking and cutting out any half-chances that came Melbourne City’s way through some serious parking of the bus. As a result of the Jets defensive mindset, City never really felt threatened defensively, with all the frustrations revolving around the lack of a goal for the home side. David Villa (whose every touch seemed to excite both new and established fans) and Irish star Damien Duff continually attempted to break open the Newcastle defense through pure class, however the Newcastle defenders were able to relatively comfortably see off any half-openings that were created by the pair.
While the midfield trio of Murdocca, Paartalu and particularly Aaron Mooy did create some nice openings, a lack of creativity in midfield was an issue and one can’t help but feel there is a Robert Koren-shaped hole in the team at the moment. While it is still early days, there is a very strong possibility that Koren’s fitness could shape just how successful the club is on field this season.
With the first half ending scoreless, there was a greater feeling of urgency to find an opener in the second half. Unfortunately, this urgency seemed to come from Newcastle who finally began to open up and attack the City goal. Despite this, City still generally controlled the play and really should have taken the lead. Unexpectedly it was David Villa who missed the best of the chances, skying a shot from close range after a clever Patrick Kisnorbo knock-on from a Duff corner. Despite this miss, the crowd still found themselves rising as one, however it was not due to a goal, instead it was down to the unexpected appearance of Kevin Muscat.
Proving as popular as a plot point in a porno, Muscat’s comic-book-villain-like appearance on the big screen at AAMI Park united the fans as 15,799 people booed in unison. He seemed to enjoy the negative attention, but having been a flag-bearer for knee high-tackles; this doesn’t really come as a surprise. It was not long after this that Newcastle took the lead.
Joel Griffiths found himself with plenty of space on the Newcastle wing and sent in a cross that newly imported Ecuadorian striker Edson Montano was able to head in at Andrew Redmayne’s near post. This felt all too familiar and it felt that, once again, Melbourne City was going to go down in disappointing fashion after finding itself on the big stage.
At the cost of defending, which resulted in some glaring missed chances by Newcastle to double their lead, Melbourne City reacted to going down by employing all-out attack. David Villa, appearing at times in the first half to have just woken from a siesta, suddenly seemed incredibly motivated, taking on opponents every chance he got and displaying the passion of a player who’d supported Melbourne City his whole life.
Eventually, Villa’s class shone through and he found the breakthrough with an 87th minute drive from the edge of an extremely congested box. Notably, rather than celebrating his goal in front of 15,000 cheering fans, he sprinted into the goal, picked up the ball and with little more than a smile, sprinted the ball back to the centre circle, still desperate to find a winner. This showed an absolute desire to win, the kind required by a player of his CV, and will have no doubt rubbed off on the rest of the players who, Duff aside, have generally been starved of success.
Unfortunately, despite some late openings being created, 1-1 was the final result with City once again not getting all three points despite dominating the game. While a home draw against a seemingly poor team like Newcastle was disappointing, perhaps more important than the result was the fact that, despite all the change in the off-season, AAMI Park still felt like home. The crowd was buzzing with both new and old fans and despite not getting the win in the end; it feels safe to say that the future is in good hands. Bring on Saturday Night and the derby!