Derby Woes: When a draw feels like a loss.

If there ever was to be the perfect advertisement for what Australian football had to offer, the Christmas Derby of 2021 was it. The match was absorbed by a riveting crowd, anxious with anticipation of every moment, waiting to see what was going to happen next. We saw the best that this sport can offer in Australia, but we also saw the ugly parts too.

Derbies can bring out the best of active support, but it can also bring out the worst, as we saw in the City Terrace at half-time. Not intending to bring attention to those disgusting casuals who snuck into the active area, but these types are what active support in Australia is battling with on a yearly basis – wannabe ultras who only come out on Derby Day for a fight. It is hopefully not a reflection on the Victory fanbase, but more so the toxic culture that some individuals withhold after watching videos of European leagues; believing that is how it should be.

Though this was not a great moment of the night, the sheer engrossment of the match at hand quickly dissolved any of these worries as the evening fired into gear. While the general play was satisfactory – particularly in the second half – the flow of the game was significantly hindered by a referee who could not keep his whistle in his pocket if his life depended on it.

City – 19 fouls.

Victory – 9 fouls.

This means Chris Beath blew his whistle once every 3.2 minutes. Lad, it is a derby. Tackles will be harder, passion is at an all time high, let the game flow. Instead, we copped multiple yellow cards (while Victory had none, even after impersonating our cross-code neighbours with a Rugby League tackle on Scott Jamieson), and even a red card for what can only be guessed as for dissent. To make things worse, this red card lead from a scramble in the box, only for Beath to blow his whistle for a 50/50 challenge, relieving the pressure off Victory. No wonder J-Mac was upset.

Complaining about a refereeing performance is nothing new when it comes to the A-League (or Chris Beath for that matter), but when it comes down to it, we are not up to scratch. Although it took us 6 games to kick into gear last season, it still worries me that our defence have turned off so frequently, often shipping a cheap goal.

Not to mention, those who we have failed to beat this season have absolutely had our number. They have figured, “if we stick 10 men behind the ball, they can’t go us quickly”, and it is working. We thrive off quick play and running rings around defenders. How can we do this if we are facing a brick wall, while looking so rigid and predictable?

We need to play the ball out from the back faster, be more unpredictable and completely put the foot down when we are up in the game. We have already lost 4 points from a winning position this season, we cannot go back to our unstable beginnings in the early City days.

While a draw can feel like a loss, it is still one point gained in a long campaign. We move onto Wellington Phoenix during the week at Casey Fields, expecting a bumper crowd in an increasingly engaged community for the club. As a local, I have already received an email from my playing club, asking us to get down and support City! This level of engagement will not go unnoticed, further promoting the proposal of a Dandenong Stadium in the future.

If you’re a local, get down there Wednesday evening. If you’re not a local, give coming down a crack and flick me a Tweet if you make it – I’d love to talk up the area even more!

BREAKING: City sign Italian Manuel Pucciarelli

In a squad where you would struggle to cram in any further attacking threat, Melbourne City have done just that. A seasoned veteran of the Italian football pyramid, Manuel Pucciarelli comes in on a two-year deal, replacing cult hero Adrian Luna after his exit to India.

Read the full article on Talking City:

What Colakovski’s call up means to Australian football

In his short time with the Melbourne City FC first team, Stefan Colakovski has (quite rightly) etched his name into City folklore. We all know the story, from fan to fan-favourite, but do we all realise just how important he has been for us?

According to FBref, ‘Cola’ has only played an average of 18 minutes per match in the last season, yet somehow managed a pair of assists and a couple of goals as well. This is incredible considering the severe lack of time on the pitch at 345 mins in total. That is a goal involvement every 86 minutes – only bettered by Socceroo Jamie Maclaren who has one every 69 minutes!

Read the full piece on Talking City:

Socceroos: New round? No worries.

It had been a difficult leadup to the third round of World Cup Qualifiers for the Socceroos. What was meant to be a home game, turned out to be a match played in the hot (albeit air conditioned) Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar.

This turned out to be a chosen destination for Socceroos boss Graham Arnold, due to the Socceroos being comfortable in these conditions – and even more-so wanting to bring China out of their comfort zone. This proved to be worthwhile; after the first 15 minutes of course.

A nervy start saw China hit the side netting and scramble quick snap shots in and around the box, only for captain keeper Mathew Ryan to clean up the mess. Hrustic quickly took control, pinging balls left and right with expert vision as the Aussies began to take control. By the 20th minute, the Australians had 66% possession – but no real attacking prowess.

That all changed when Awer Mabil went through. First, latching onto a long, low ball and firing straight into the keeper. Mabil had another chance which was originally saved – only to finish the follow up cross from Adam Taggart. The acrobatic finish which rounded the top of the Chinese defender’s head tapped home an attempted parry from the opposition keeper.

Awer Mabil (right) takes on the defence against China in the World Cup Qualifiers – Getty Images

Not long after, the Socceroos had a second. A quick counter through the middle saw revitalised midfielder Tommy Rogic dispatch fellow Scottish Premiership man Martin Boyle, who quickly sorted out his feet in order to laser home a low shot into the back of the net. A goal of top quality, Martin Boyle has found scoring form with the international team and surely has established himself as a quality player for the years to come.

The second half started with China playing more fluid football with no chances to reward the play. The Socceroos quickly took hold again, with chances going to Trent Sainsbury, Taggart and Mabil. Soon after, Aaron Mooy came on for goal scorer Martin Boyle while Taggart finished his game without a goal, coming off for Mitch Duke. It took two touches for Duke to guide home a rebound from the keeper, after terrific link up play and a saved shot from Mabil.

A fantastic story brewed when Callum Elder made his debut for the Socceroos after terrific form for Hull City which helped gain promotion to the Championship, coming on for Aziz Behich. After bouncing around the English Football League system for his entire senior career on loans, the 26-year-old looks to establish himself in the Championship as an important player for his club.

Callum Elder (left) celebrates promotion to the EFL Championship with Hull City – Getty Images

The fullback had a few touches during the rest of the half where the Socceroos seemingly toyed with the Chinese squad, hardly giving them a touch and supposedly queuing for a goal that never came. Jimmy Jeggo came on for Irvine, whereas McGree gained another cap as Rogic came off the pitch in the 86th minute.

All in all, it was a fantastic outing for the Socceroos squad who make a signifying start to Round 3 of the Qualification. Elsewhere, Japan lost to Oman while Saudi Arabia made an expected 3-point start to the round.

With Vietnam coming up this following Tuesday night, it will be important to secure the win to stamp a foot of authority onto this stage of the World Cup Qualifiers.

Will we see Nathaniel Atkinson in City colours again?

For a long time, the Olympics have been a great opportunity for young players to earn their stripes and show the world what they’re made of.

Not long after the 2008 Olympics, we saw Nikita Rukavytsya sign for Dutch side Twente, and go on to have a solid career throughout Europe and the Middle East. To depict the true potential of performing well at the Olympics, Brazilian defender Thiago Silva was signed by AC Milan just 4 months after winning bronze at the 2008 Olympics. The world is truly watching.

This may be a route for budding star Nathaniel Atkinson, who has all but impressed his Australian fanbase during the exciting win against Argentina and unfortunate loss to Spain in the group stage. It has been reported that he could be following the recently made footsteps of All Whites defender Liberato Cacace to a club in Belgium. This has, of course, been a hugely successful move for the likes of Socceroo Mathew Ryan, who began climbing the European ladder at Club Brugge.

Nathaniel Atkinson controls the ball in the 0-1 loss against Spain – Getty Images

Off the back of a Championship season which saw Atkinson come back from an injury dubbed to be season ending, the sharp-footed wing back has recovered well and forced his way into a talented Olympic side.

There, he has continued his Joe Marston Medal winning form, gliding past players with ease when on the ball, and positioning himself expertly when defending. Winning 5 duals and completing 100% of his dribbles against Spain, Atkinson won player of the match – something that he is becoming quite proficient at!

Having already played 65 league games for Melbourne City, Atkinson is proving himself to be more than a worthy asset to club football, having the knack at playing a multitude of positions down the right-hand side across his career.

However, we could have witnessed his last if the young star should be called up to the Socceroos for the World Cup Qualifiers in early September, as this could mean he would miss the FFA Cup tie against South Melbourne on the 29th of August. If Atkinson is to be signed off the back of his Olympics performances, it could be done quickly.

Nathaniel Atkinson celebrates his goal in City’s first Grand Final win – Getty Images

For me, I would love to see Atkinson stay at Melbourne City for as long as possible. But not as much as I would love for another Australian player to be making moves in Europe.

We will be looking intently over the next few weeks, albeit hoping he hasn’t played his last game in the Olympics after that second yellow card – a win against Egypt would confirm that untrue.

Opinion: Moving to a stadium in Dandenong is the right move

The City of Greater Dandenong Council has recently employed Deloitte Australia to complete a feasibility review and business case for a 15,000 seated stadium in the heart of the South East – Dandenong – just around the corner from the metro station.

Home to four different clubs across three different sporting codes, AAMI Park has hosted Melbourne City FC crowds since the club’s inception, but fans have begrudgingly shared the venue with our biggest rival, Melbourne Victory, and most recently Western United at times as they build their long-awaited stadium.

No A-League club should have to share their home stadium with a direct opponent, let alone their largest rivals. Could you imagine if Sydney FC began playing their home games at Bankwest Stadium? I highly doubt Western Sydney would be happy about that predicament.

Read the full opinion piece on Talking City:

Najjar and Najjarine – A-League looks to retain developing talent

More often than not, young players in the A-League succumb to the unfortunate result of having limited spots in a squad. This can be down to the club having too much quality, the player plateauing in their development, fiscal disagreements or a range of other issues.

Therefore, it should be commended if we are seeing players who are unable to break through at one club plying their trade elsewhere. Take Moudi Najjar, a young forward who arguably looked best to take the league by storm after winning the golden boot in the National Youth League and scoring once in 210 minutes for Melbourne City. It seemed a great choice to go to Macarthur Bulls on loan, but unfortunately Najjar could not find his feet – unable to gain a single goal involvement in the 20/21 season.

Moudi Najjar at his old club – Melbourne City FC

His time appeared to be over, with 10 starts in the A-League and not many solid figures to back up his contract status. However, instead of falling back upon the NPL like Marc Marino or Wade Dekker, Najjar has signed on for another two seasons as a fully contracted Bulls player, looking to jump start his career at the great age of 21.

With fantastic control with the poise to be a real threat going forward, if Najjar is coached correctly and fights for opportunity, we could be looking at the player that Melbourne City believed he could become very shortly. The Bulls will no doubt be looking for a replacement for outgoing Matt Derbyshire and ex-Melbourne-City Markel Susaeta after his retirement announcement. As a City fan, I’ll be hoping Najjar can fill that void and establish himself as a true professional. Just not against us…

In similar fashion, Ramy Najjarine also found himself without a contract at the end of the 20/21 season, after notching 3 assists while on loan for the Newcastle Jets from Melbourne City. The young attacking midfielder looked good to return to Melbourne City as a more developed and senior player, but this outlook was cut short as Stefan Colakovski and Marco Tilio burst onto the scene. Removing any doubt of the dynamic duo’s future at Melbourne City, Najjarine was unfortunately left without a club.

Although, not for long.

Ramy Najjarine celebrates for Australia u23s –

Western Sydney Wanderers snapped up their ex-academy player with a massive grin on their faces. The 21-year-old began his professional pathway during the inception of the club back in the day, going on to playing (and scoring goals) for their NPL side. Now, after gaining experience at two A-League clubs, Najjarine will hope to impress the Wanderers enough to earn a contract longer than the one year that he has been given.

Either you’re breaking through like Najjar, or ready to take on the league like Najjarine, it is an exciting time as A-League clubs look to put faith into youngsters and players look to retain their professional status. With expansion looking to come, and the possibility of a National Second Division, now is certainly the time to improve your game as a junior player in Australia.

Melbourne City: More than just a club to me.

Who else has walked down any given street, wearing your clubs crest on your heart, just to hear those words; “No one cares about Soccer”?

As an A-League fan, I am certain you have a story similar to that. The god forsaken jokes and ridicule dealt out by those who don the idea that the AFL is the “greatest sport in the world”, just because we don’t pack our stadium every week.

If anything, that makes us special.

I have been a Melbourne Storm supporter since I was born. I grew up watching Billy Slater, I have signed books from various Rugby League legends in my bookshelf. I have attended numerous sold out, hard hitting, ear-ringing matches watching the boys in purple… but nothing like that compares to the 50% capacity atmosphere on Sunday night.

I brought a friend along that night. He’s one that has maybe been to 2 or 3 A-League games prior to this, mostly watching Southampton play in the early hours of the morning as his weekly digest of football. However, due to the passion, the singing, the quality of the boys on the pitch… I think we’ve made a fan for life.

In an intense match where the highest honour of Australian football was up for grabs, I have never heard a crowd that loud – that supportive of a club which the NSL diehards will call “fake”.

It is not fake. It can’t be. The overall intense passion, the tension, the love of Scott Jamieson as he took that penalty.

It is real.

Stefan Colakovski celebrates the Championship with the fans – Getty Images

My personal journey began as a 14-year-old moving to Melbourne from a town in country NSW, forgivingly not knowing a single thing about football. I had no clue who Harry Kewell was, who Melbourne Heart were, why Mariners fans were bringing toilet seats to the 2013 Grand Final.

The first A-League game I attended was the 5-2 loss against Victory, where Berisha and Archie Thompson scored for fun. I could have been one and done, “nope, City aren’t for me”. Instead, something more emotional took place, I had tears in my eyes for a club that I had never seen play before. I was already in love with the ex-Fulham man Damien Duff, the magician Aaron Mooy…

I was hooked.

Of course, we have had many more devastating moments than the former. One recently against Adelaide, I won’t dive into details but that one night in 2019, a chance at our second trophy – I will never forget. Pure agony. More so than when the Storm had their premierships taken off of them. More so than when they lost the Grand Final in 2016.

It was a cup. Not even the league. But it meant so much more than that, so much more than anything.

Throughout the years we have been given a pretty tough run at it; of course, those who believe the Cahill Conspiracy won’t believe it. Although we went out early in finals, gave up large leads at the drop of a hat, went through the hoof ball period that was Warren Joyce; it all lead to salvation.

It has been (and will be) talked about to death, but Patrick Kisnorbo really is the saviour that this club needed. He provides that final push that we have required all these years, to really step up and become the club our fans have known we can be.

Who knows, with these recent successes, maybe we can see the ‘Finals Fans’ rocking up to regular season matches too? Not that our City Terrace boys need any further help – they have cracked on with some tough times, expertly.

City Terrace supporting their boys – Getty Images

All that is needed to cure a tough day for me is to spend time with like-minded people on Twitter, to watch the replay of the coveted 7-0 derby, to go and kick the ball with mates. Trust me, it has worked a treat many times in the past.

This is a community.

This is heart.

This is my club.

Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.

It is a cold Thursday morning, looking to finish the short week strong. I open my Twitter app; the morning routine is on. It’s a post from Melbourne City – who I am keen to see on Sunday. Unfortunately, the Australian Professional Leagues made a decision that went the other way.

City, the fans, the league was rightly fuming; unsure what was going to happen. Our squad slashed; injuries, quarantine. It was looking quite saddened. Step up the heroes, a screening organised by the club. “Get your drink on while watching us make the Grand Final, all in a booked-out pub”.

Forgive the poem; I’m feeling a bit sentimental. A normal write-up doesn’t rhyme – but that game, that semi-final was a statement for who we are as a club. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. It all started with a drive to Thornbury, some of the lucky ones flew up. Others went to the pub, ready for a free beer to fill our cups.

It was a scary start to the match with the Bulls looking ready to play, of course they practically had a home final – pretty much thrown their way. It was a lacking pass midfielder O’Neill, which dispatched a streaking flyer, but M’Mombwa’s shot was met by quality of much higher. Nuno Reis, coming out of nowhere, saving the day. Safe to say he’s earned his years pay.

Minutes later it was ex-City Franjic hitting the crossbar. The shot was massive, it wasn’t too far. Despite the possession, we were lacking decent chances, that was until young Atkinson skipped past as he prances. Moving the ball on his right, then his left! Milligan blocks the shot – a clearance that was deft.

It is half time. It is tense. I think I need a drink. I don’t want to know what will happen in the second half, barely want to think. I get back to my seat, scarf covering my face – what if we don’t win? What if Macarthur win the race? The second half starts, Fox Sports are interviewing the coach. Little did he know that his boys were in the moo-d to poach.

Little skip at his feet – Tilio is on his way – the Sydney born winger whips in a cross that made the Bulls pay. COLAKOVSKI, IT IS IN! The kids are mean! Tearing apart the defence like that is perfect for the team. A minute goes by, the attack vice versa this time, over the top, Colakovski; puts it on a dime. It seems to go in slow motion, with the match staring him in the face, but Tilio slides it past the advancing keeper – putting him in his place.

The pub erupts – it is two in two. Drinks are flying everywhere, I guess it was due.  The final 30 minutes are purely business, other than a cheeky choke which yielded a simple yellow – VAR was no use, the game was over, but the vibe was hardly mellow. Ecstasy erupted, drinks flew with their lime – we’re into the Grand Final. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.

Now to the APL and government, they have a decision to make.

Will we have our home Grand Final?

Will it be ours to take?

Socceroos: Record breaking win in feisty Jordan affair

In their last encounter in the first phase of qualifying for Qatar 2022, Australia faced a modern rival in Jordan – who have always been a bump in the road for the Socceroos.

Since 2012, we have gone tit for tat against the Jordanian national team. No draws in 6 games; 3 wins and 3 losses. This finally changed as the Socceroos broke the pattern, winning twice in succession for the first time in this fixture’s history in a hard-fought battle in Kuwait.

A first half which lacked an end product went by in a breeze, with the two most notable chances falling to Abdel-Rahman and Martin Boyle, who traded almost exact replicas of free kicks on either end – each curling just wide of the post after having the keeper beaten.

With not many chances going, the quality of the pitch posed a greater threat. As the ball could not glide along the surface as well as it might in Australia, the Socceroos had to battle the fast-pressing Jordanian squad and the bounce of the ball at the same time. This, of course, did not matter for our new favourite giant.

With only 13 minutes to go, the Socceroos were facing their first dropped points in this qualifying stage, until Boyle swung in a beautiful corner to the towering Harry Souttar who buried his header into the Jordanian goal. As his 6th goal in this qualifying campaign, that certifies that Souttar – a defender – has scored the most goals, beating Jamie Maclaren’s tally at 5.

Australia celebrate Souttar’s winner – Yasser Al-Zayyat

The feisty affair could not have ended without an ounce of drama, with Ehsan Manel Haddad fouling Behich late in the half, which caused some handbags. This quickly escalated into Behich being floored by a headbutt and a strike in the face by Musa Suleiman. With the original offender certainly looking at a red card, it was to the commentators and players surprise that the latter was sent off for the strike – with Ehsan Manel Haddad being let off with a yellow card.

Despite the inevitable fury of the Jordanian team, it was the better team who came out as winners in a 1-0 result, which capped off a fantastic run of 8 wins in a row, for the first time ever.

Now, it is the kids who look forward towards the Olympics. With certain Olyroos Connor Metcalfe and Denis Genreau rested against Jordan, Graham Arnold would certainly feel confident in his midfield come July.