Perth Glory’s unlikely title challenger

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They’re 18 points off Perth Glory in first place, but Melbourne City have what it takes to make a late charge to become A-League champions.

It’s been an unremarkable season for Warren Joyce’s men so far, but if you look into their current form and the circumstantial changes around the club there is evidence of a turnaround which may just result in City peaking at the right time of year to challenge for the title.

In this league, timing is everything. Take last season for example, when City’s cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory stormed home from fourth place to win the grand final and finish a season of mediocrity as A-League champions.

At the end of the regular season Victory were 23 points behind Sydney FC in first place but they peaked at the right moment, winning three consecutive finals games – knocking Sydney out in the process – and just like that they were champions. Much like last season, there are signs pointing to Melbourne City following in their footsteps.

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Firstly, Warren Joyce has a point to prove. His handling of the Bruno Fornaroli stand-off resulted in the Uruguayan parting ways with the club, with rumours linking him to Perth Glory for the 2019/20 season. While Fornaroli sat on the sidelines City struggled for goals, and criticism fell directly on Joyce’s shoulders as it seemed his personal quarrel with his star man was a severe hindrance to the form of the team.

However, in February, Joyce turned the situation on its head. Fornaroli was out the door, and after weeks of plugging the gap up top with full-back Ritchie De Laet, Joyce suddenly had two new weapons at his disposal in Jamie Maclaren and Tottenham Hotspur loanee Shayon Harrison. Maclaren has five goals in as many appearances since signing for City, and after a slow start Harrison opened his account on Sunday afternoon with the all important opener against Sydney FC which lead to a statement win for his new side.

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Despite his average form, you’d be a fool to write off Harrison at this stage of the season. The 21-year-old’s contract at Tottenham expires mid-year and how he performs in his spell at City could impact where his career goes from here.

If Harrison finds his groove alongside Maclaren, who has a reputation for scoring for fun in the A-League, their goals alone could determine how far City progress through the finals campaign and vindicate Joyce for his brave stance in the Fornaroli spat. It’s a massive personal motivator for the City boss which could trickle through the camp and inspire his side to an A-League championship.

Secondly, City have undergone a finals audition of sorts over the past three rounds, and their performances suggest they won’t roll over easily come finals time. Playing consecutive games against Glory, Victory and Sydney FC, City notched draws against Glory and Victory before earning a 2-0 away win against Sydney on Sunday afternoon. It’s been gritty more so than pretty, but Joyce’s men will take a massive amount of confidence from how they performed against the league’s best sides.

In fact, their results against the top three have been solid all season long. Out of the 10 games played against Glory, Victory and Sydney, City have won two, drawn four and lost three.

In three Melbourne Derbies this season City are undefeated, winning one and drawing two, and their form against league leaders Glory has been strong, particularly in Perth where they have conceded just one goal in two games. City are currently one point off Wellington in fourth place, and should they overtake them by the end of the season the confidence City will take from knowing they can produce against the three teams above them will serve them well in their push for an A-League title.

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At this stage Melbourne City are far from the finished article, but the quirks of A-League finals football give them hope. You don’t have to be at your best at all times, you only have to be your best at the right time. And much to the disdain of Melbourne Victory, whilst achieving the most unlikely championship in A-League history last season they may have handed their bitter rivals the blueprint to success in an unexpected title run.

Featured image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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Matthew Comito
Matthew Comito
Football nut, student journalist and firm believer that Berisha dived in the 2012 A-League Grand Final. Covering Perth Glory for the 2018/19 season.

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