Was it the greatest game in A-League history, as some on social media were claiming? Probably not, given the nature of the contest – a mid season clash between two mid-table teams – and the fact that it lacked silky skills and breathtaking technical play.
Certainly last season’s A League semi final, in which Brisbane Roar squandered a three goal lead to lose 5-4 in extra time to Western Sydney Wanderers tops it for sheer extraordinariness in a match where the stakes could hardly have been any higher.
But with six goals, three penalties (two of them saved by Perth Glory Liam Reddy), two red cards, a feast of frantic goalmouth action and refereeing controversies aplenty – several of which drew the ire of City coach John Van ‘t Schip – it has to at least be in the conversation.
If nothing else, Melbourne City’s 3-3 draw with Perth Glory in a Christmas Cracker of a game was one of the most exciting, exhilarating and dramatic seen at AAMI Park in a while, and with a crowd of more than 11,000 – one of City’s best home gates for a league match this season – there were plenty there to enjoy it and create a tremendous atmosphere.
While fans can hardly bear to watch such games because of the tension of the game, coach’s feel the same way, but for another reason: they can only squint out through the fingers covering their eyes as they recoil in horror at the sloppy mistakes and missed opportunities that combined to create such drama at both ends.
Glory coach Kenny Lowe could only quip in the post match press conference that he had been involved in such a roller coaster game only a handful of times in his long career, most memorably in a 5-5 draw in a Cup tie in England when he was playing for lower league Barnet against Brentford in a London derby.
City’s Dutch boss John Van ‘t Schip was equally sanguine, masking his disappointment at his side spuring two chances to seal the game with spot kicks and three times surrendering the lead with a shrug and a ‘its football, sometimes crazy things happen’ type of response.
Perhaps he was still stunned by the fact that the normally so reliable Bruno Fornaroli, City’s star striker and club captain, failed to convert twice from the penalty spot as well as scoring once from one of the three penalties referee Shaun Evans awarded his team.
More likely, given his post match reaction, he was stunned by some of the calls Evans made during this rollicking, roller coaster game that ended in such amazing fashion with City failing to seal a win with that injury time penalty awarded after the late dismissal of Glory defender Dino Djulbic and controversial City forward Fernando Brandan.
What baffled Van ‘t Schip more than anything was the fact that Glory defender Marc Warren, who conceded two penalties, was not shown a red card by Evans. The full back had been booked early on in the match and was walking a tightrope thereafter.
“I am surprised at, again, (how) the referee was very inconsistent.
” I think it was after 15 or 16 minutes that he (Warren) got a yellow, and after that he had I think five or six more fouls that he made…a few of them for sure (were) in the 18 yard box for a second penalty, but he didn’t get a second yellow in all those occasions, so I really don’t understand why.”
It wasn’t just the way Evans handled Warren that bemused Van ‘t Schip.
“Corners that were not given, I think we had four of them, that everyone could see clear corners, even the players of Perth were already walking to set themselves up (to defend the City set piece) and the referee on his own makes a decision that its not a corner.
“A throw in in the first half was a throw in for us, everybody is positioning themselves for a throw in for us, and he gives it to them. Out of that throw in they score. Its very frustrating, but its something that we can’t control, unfortunately.”
City was also askance that a second Tim Cahill header (when they were 1-0 up from Cahill’s early opening goal) was disallowed, even though it looked like the Socceroo star had not committed a foul in the process.
Van ‘t Schip may have some legitimate axes to grind here, but what is also undeniable is that a team that scores two goals from open play and converts a penalty before missing two has few excuses for not winning a match.
Credit Glory for their fighting spirit and commitment. Kenny Lowe’s team was on a horror run having lost their last three games, with their attitude and stomach for the fight being questioned, but they dug in and showed character aplenty to come back to level three times.
While City work hard and try to dictate games by pressing in the front third and playing a high line, loading their team with attacking players, they do also often look open for business at the back.
They have now not won a game in the month of December although they get the chance to end the year on a strong note when they play Central Coast in Gosford on New Year’s Eve.
The absence of Danish defender Michael Jakobsen has been a blow in the past two games, but Van ‘t Schip refuses to say that is the sole reason why his team leaked goals against Glory.
“It’s easy to say Michael Jakobsen [is the difference] because of course he’s a good player, but I think there are some things that go wrong before those things [his injury] happen.
“If we don’t do exactly the things that we worked on, and they can break through the lines and get easy opportunities, it doesn’t really have a lot to do with him not playing.
“Of course he’s important, but it also has to do with the moment when we lose the ball, how we are positioned, who’s pressing.
“If we have a high line, it’s important we have a goalkeeper that’s a sweeper and defends balls over the top. We have to be switched on. Every time the game changes you have to be aware of what’s happening..”
“We’re humans and we’ve made mistakes, so we have to learn from this. We’ll have a review and see what we could have done better.”
City is now 11 points adrift of Sydney FC and it will be difficult, but not impossible, to challenge for top spot.
“In this league winning a few games in a row – which is easier said than done – brings you back close to chasing, to getting pressure on teams.
” We saw what happened with Adelaide last year going from the bottom and finishing first. Sydney is playing good football at the moment, everything is going their way and they probably deserve that. It’s up to us and other teams to catch up on them.”