Second half substitute Daniel Arzani produced a magnificent performance on Saturday night to spark Melbourne City to a come-from-behind victory against the Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park.
Arzani assisted City talisman Ross McCormack twice to guide City to the win, with the two second half goals enough to cancel out Roy Krishna’s first half goal.
The win breaks a three-game losing streak for City, who are now back to third position on the A-League table thanks to the Victory’s draw with Central Coast earlier on Saturday.
— Melbourne City FC (@MelbourneCity) January 6, 2018
With Stefan Mauk, Bruce Kamau and Ruon Tongyik away on international duty, as well as the January transfer window officially opening, Head Coach Warren Joyce made a number of changes to the side that went down to Western Sydney Wanderers on New Years Day.
Manny Muscat made an immediate return to the starting line-up after serving his two-match suspension for his red card against Sydney FC, slotting in at right back.
With Muscat returning to the line-up, Nathaniel Atkinson shifted up the park to play as the 10, a position the 18-year-old was familiar with from his youth days.
Newly signed Dario Vidosic marked his first appearance with a start, lining up out wide against his former club, whilst newly arrived Harrison Delbridge was on the bench.
As a cool change descended upon AAMI Park, both sides began the game tepidly, with City quickly establishing the lion’s share of possession without truly threatening to penetrate the ‘Nix defence.
Despite this, it was the ‘Nix who had the first clear chance on goal.
Breaking on the counter, Andrija Kaluderovic latched onto a through ball played in behind the City defence, collecting just inside City’s half.
Running towards goal, the Serbian international looked a chance to pinch an early lead for his side, however good pressure from Bart Schenkeveld was enough to force the ‘Nix striker’s shot wide.
It was a brief disruption in an opening in which City dominated the possession stat, with the new look front line of Vidosic, Atkinson, McCormack and Nick Fitzgerald continuously probing the ‘Nix defence for an opening.
City’s best chance to convert their early dominance into goals on the board came in the 16th minute.
Collecting the ball near the halfway line on the right wing, Muscat would take off on a little run, advancing up field before cutting the ball back inside and playing the ball into a waiting Vidosic in the box.
City’s new signing would collect and launch a shot goal-ward, only for the ball to be palmed back into play by ‘Nix goalkeeper Lewis Italiano, with City unable to pounce on the rebound.
Despite the lack of clear chances, City’s dominance – albeit it in a dour manner – in the early stages was clear, with the visitors unable to mount any sustained period of attack against the City defence.
The inability to turn their overwhelming dominance of possession into goals however, would almost cost City dearly in the 26th minute, when the ‘Nix again mounted a quick counter against the run of play.
It was Kaluderovic with the chance again, the big Serb launching a left footed strike towards the far post after getting on the end of a squaring ball from Fijian international Roy Krishna, only to be denied by a fine diving save from Bouzanis.
Any hopes of the chance kick-starting the game to life were dashed however, as the game soon settled back into a monotonous rhythm of City dominance of possession without creating any clear cut goalscoring chances and the ‘Nix launching quick breaks to try and catch City napping on the counter.
It was surprising then, that the ‘Nix strategy bore fruit for the visitors just before half time, when in the 42nd minute a route one ball from the Nix’s Thomas Doyle cleared the City defence and bounced towards the City goal.
Running back with the flight of the ball, City captain Michael Jakobsen looked to jockey the ball towards the safety of either Bouzanis or the touchline.
Put under pressure by Krishna, Jakobsen would change course, and instead of leaving the ball struck a casual headed back pass in the direction of Bouzanis.
The pass would prove to be too casual however, as the Krishna, spying an opportunity, was able to nick in between Jakobsen and Bouzanis and dink a cheeky effort past the City goalkeeper to give the Phoenix a lead just before half time.
With the City fans in attendance becoming increasingly restless as their side stared down the barrel of a fourth straight A-League defeat, City would create several half-chances from the restart, winning a number of early corners and having calls for a penalty off a potential Marco Rossi hand ball turned down by both the referee and VAR.
And City’s intentions of becoming more pragmatic in the second half became clearer soon after, when on 62 minutes Joyce introduced Arzani into the fray to cheers from the City faithful.
The 19-year-old would slot onto the left wing, with Nathaniel Atkinson sliding back into the right back position to replace the substituted Manny Muscat.
The ‘Nix responded to the change however, and could have easily gone ahead in the 56th minute when they launched another quick counter attack, again through the combination of Krisha and Kaluderovic.
Getting to the byline, Krishna would loop across to the edge of the six-yard box and onto the head of Kaluderovic, with the ‘Nix talisman launching a bouncing header towards goal that clattered off the bottom of the crossbar and back into play, before being scrambled away by the City defence.
In a rarity for a game that had until then been marked by it’s monotony, City were able to immediately answer the ‘Nix with a clear-cut chance of their own, when Arzani was played the ball on the counter.
Collecting the ball and turning towards goal, the young winger launched a thunderbolt from outside the box that was destined for the bottom of the net, only to be denied as Italiano dived low and left to parry the ball out for a corner.
Arzani would again by the catalyst for City’s next clear chance.
Attacking the ‘Nix defence with a threatening run after collecting the ball on the wing, Arzani was able to get to the byline and cut the ball back in towards a waiting Vidosic in the area, with the new signing unable to turn the chance in.
The game was showing signs of coming back to life, and the Nix responded in the 66th minute.
Seizing on the ball just on the halfway line on the right wing, Goran Paracki drifted a long ball to the edge of the penalty area to Kaluderovic, who in turn rolled the ball in front of Michael McGlinchey, but the ‘Nix number 10 could only direct his shot over the bar.
Six minutes after that chance however, it was City who would finally make the second half breakthrough, when McCormack brought them level.
And, in a manner befitting his play since his arrival, it was Arzani who was the instigator.
Collecting the ball on the right, Arzani would break down the wing before launching a dangerous cross into the area.
Lunging at it in a desperate attempt to clear, ‘Nix captain Andrew Durante could only deflect the ball into the path of McCormack at the far post.
McCormack would make no mistake, poking it in for his ninth of the season and bringing City level.
The pairing of Arzani and McCormack would prove deadly again in the 80th, when they would combine once more to give City the lead.
Receiving the ball from Vidosic inside the area, Arzani would sucker in a handful of ‘Nix defenders before launching a beautifully weighted ball towards McCormack at the edge of the six-yard-box.
The Scot would magnificently guide the ball into the net with his head, his first headed A-League goal and 10th overall, to give city the 2-1 lead.
City were able to pull off an effective rear-guard following the restart, denying some late desperate attacks from the ‘Nix to preserve their lead and secure a much needed win.
City will undergo a short turnaround following tonight’s win, as they travel to Perth face a reeling Perth Glory on Tuesday, January 9.
City will not return back home until January 21, when they host Adelaide United in Round 17 of the campaign.