MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 30: Nigel Boogaard of the Jets and Stefan Mauk of City collide into each other during the round four A-League match between Melbourne City FC and Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park on October 30, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) Photo: Quinn Rooney MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 30: Nigel Boogaard of the Jets and Stefan Mauk of City collide into each other during the round four A-League match between Melbourne City FC and Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park on October 30, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) Photo: Quinn Rooney
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 30: Nigel Boogaard of the Jets and Stefan Mauk of City collide into each other during the round four A-League match between Melbourne City FC and Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park on October 30, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) Photo: Quinn Rooney
Melbourne City might, in an alternative competition, think about changing their name to Melbourne Brittle.
No matter how comfortable they ever seem to look in a game, John Van ‘t Schip’s side rarely look as though they can be guaranteed to put their opposition away, even if they are a couple of goals to the good and in control of the game.
It was a familiar story for City’s long-suffering fans, who turned out at AAMI Park on Friday night for their clash with surprise early season pacesetters Newcastle Jets.
The latter arrived in town having won two of their opening three games, and while most pundits were pleased for new coach Scott Miller and delighted to see a club that had become something of a basket case begin to get its act in order, no one seriously expected the Novocastrians to stay in such a productive groove.
And those opinions seemed justified in a first half where the visitors were played off the park. City romped to a two-goal lead through Aaron Mooy and Stefan Mauk, the latter finishing off an intricate passing move that displayed the best of what City can offer, and it looked all over bar the shouting.
Mooy was pulling the strings in midfield, City were rotating the ball well – at least for the first half hour, anyway – and the Jets rarely threatened. If anyone had predicted, correctly, at the interval that there would be another three second-half goals most punters, given the option, would probably have lumped on a 4-1 or 5-0 scoreline by game’s end.
But that, of course, would have been to ignore City’s famous capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It would also have underestimated Newcastle’s growing powers of self-belief and commitment, forged by those two early wins, an off-season of turmoil and uncertainty and faith in a hard-edged young coach who commands the respect of the dressing room.
When Ben Kantarovski, thrown into a more attacking role as a result of a half-time reshuffle – one that Miller tactfully described afterwards as containing an “honest” self-appraisal by his players – headed home just before the hour mark this match was very definitely on.
A palpable sense went round the ground that the Jets might well get something out of the game, so often have regulars seen and endured City’s capacity for implosion.
And it was entirely in keeping with the hosts’ fate that the game hinged on two penalties, one given, one ruled out.
With City and Van ‘t Schip screaming for a spot kick for a foul on Corey Gameiro as they clung to a 2-1 lead, referee Jared Gillett ignored the home side’s pleas.
At the other end, when a hopeful cross in from the right by former City utility Jason Hoffman struck Wade Dekker on the arm and bounced out for a corner, the assistant referee raised his flag, Gillett pointed to the spot and Milos Trifunovic calmly netted the equaliser.
It is not just games, but seasons, sometimes jobs, that can hinge on decisions such as that and on one unfortunate result.
The spotlight will inevitably fall, once again, on the Dutchman in the hot seat at the City Football Academy after this defeat – not so much because of the scoreline but because of the way it occurred.
There is always pressure in football, so Van ‘t Schip is under no more than the average coach in the competition. And he is well used to it, having taken charge at big clubs such as Ajax and also worked as assistant manager during a World Cup and a European championship of the famously fractious Dutch squad.
But he would not want to preside over many more such fadeouts during the rest of the season, especially if the well-fancied City, who look to have a stronger and better balanced squad than in previous seasons, are battling to make the playoffs.
City will strengthen for the midweek clash with Adelaide.
Aaron Hughes, who has been missing all season, should be available to play at least some sort of role, the Northern Ireland international veteran having recovered from injury and regained fitness. Robert Koren, the Slovenian playmaker sidelined for the past few games, may also come back into consideration, while there could also be a return for French winger Harry Novillo, another who has missed this season through injury.
Van ‘t Schip could only lament Gillett’s inability to find in favour of his side at a critical point of the match, and also rail at his team’s inability to continue dominating a game they should have had wrapped up long before the interval.
“At 2-1 we should have had a clear penalty, again,” the coach said. “It’s the third one we didn’t get this year, clear penalties. I don’t know why it is the case … it’s unbelievable when you see it happening, when he’s not brave enough to point to the penalty spot. It’s not consistent in how they are making their decisions, it’s very frustrating.
“We stopped playing. Going two up after 30 minutes, then we were not playing the game we did in the first 30 minutes. We started to play long. We gave away our possession. We didn’t open up. We start from the back, we try to get the ball going around and into the midfield, but that didn’t happen. We started taking too long with free kicks, then every ball goes long. We continued with that in the second half. We were not able to change it.
“We were not jelling with what we were doing in the first 30 minutes. We were pressing and creating chances out of good football. We should have made the score bigger than 2-0.
“If we stop playing football we are vulnerable. I tell them to play freely and keep on looking for solutions on the pitch. There is too much of a difference in the past two games. It has happened when we have experienced players on the park too.”
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