Melbourne City hold tight to claim three points against 10-man Jets
Melbourne City made it two wins on the trot and their fourth consecutive match without loss, holding on against a 10-man Newcastle side to claim a 2-1 victory on Sunday at AAMI Park.
After a nervy opening in which Newcastle capitalised on a comical City defensive error, the home side went a man up just before the half-hour mark and took full advantage in front of 7,368 supporters.
Despite having the numerical advantage for the vast majority of the game, City failed to apply themselves in the second half. Newcastle were unlucky not to level the match, and allowing City to eventually limp over the line.
City made two changes to the eleven that beat the Wanderers at ANZ Stadium last week, with Osama Malik making his first start of the season in place of the suspended Rostyn Griffiths and Dario Vidosic a late withdrawal replaced by Nathaniel Atkinson.
The Jets, meanwhile, were without midfielder Ben Kantarovski, replaced by Steven Ugarkovic.
The first-half opened with a brain fade by the City defence, after a lofted ball over Citys defence left goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic flapping outside his penalty area, allowing Newcastle's Irish striker Roy O'Donovan to stroll into an unguarded net.
City were quick to look for a response soon after when a Luke Brattan through-ball resulted in a Riley McGree shot being cleared close to the goal-line.
The Jets looked comfortable before the game was turned on its head after Brazilian playmaker Ronnie Vargas gave away a penalty for a handball at a corner. Vargas, who received his second yellow card after an earlier booking in the 7th minute, earned himself an early shower.
McGree coolly slotted the penalty, meaning City had more than an hour to turn a 1-1 scoreline into a winning one with a one-man advantage.
Just after the half-hour mark City capitalised on their numerical advantage, after a poor touch by Dimitri Petratos gave away possession, allowing Luke Brattan to dispatch the chance with aplomb from outside the area.
Brattan, operating in a more advanced position with two more defensive midfielders behind him, is relishing his more free-wheeling role, and was involved in most of Citys forward interplay. Brattans physicality and nous with the ball at his feet is not dissimilar to the type of football played by Aaron Mooy in his final year at City – and his peroxide haircut means he also catches the eye in a similair manner to the follicly-challenged Huddersfield midfielder.
Newcastle struggled with ten men, with forays forward few and far between as they shifted to a 4-4-1 formation. Some awkward moments did eventuate for City in the latter stages of the first half, though, particularly from set pieces.
Citys overlapping full-backs were a feature of the first half – with full-back Ritchie De Laet switching positions with winger Nathaniel Atkinson – as City dominated possession and looked to find further inroads into the heart of the Newcastle defence.
The Jets tried to press higher up the ground to begin the second half, yielding several promising attacks and dangerous moments from corners.
City looked turgid in possession, often affording Newcastle openings into their defence.
A reckless tackle from De Laet earnt him a yellow with just over 20 minutes remaining, earning a fiery reaction from Jets full-back Daniel Georgievski which drew a slew of players from both sides to a mini-melee.
Minutes later a curler from Georgievski almost put the Jets level, clipping the outside of the post.
Centre-back Harrison Delbridge was shifted to right-back for City, coach Warren Joyce opting to stabilise the defence with the Jets causing headaches on the counter.
John Koutroumbis' goal-saving tackle for the Jets kept them in the game with ten minutes remaining, a Ugarkovic volley going close to levelling it for the away side.
The Jets went close to winning a penalty in the dying minutes, but City held on to claim an important three points, almost adding a third goal in the closing stages through McGree.
City now face stragglers Brisbane and Central Coast in their next two fixtures, before a difficult assignment against ladder-leaders Perth Glory.
Meanwhile, Melbourne Victory have cancelled the membership of a member who directed a racist social media comment toward Western Sydney Wanderers' player Tarek Elrich over the weekend.
In a statement, the Victory said the fan would be offered "support and further education".
Paul is a reporter for The Age.