Melbourne City has finally taken a major scalp – hanging on to defeat arch-rivals Melbourne Victory and square the season’s derby ledger.
The roar from the home fans at full time told the story as a depleted City rose to the occasion to record a season-defining win over its rivals, after coming under fire for showing a lack of ruthlessness in big games.
The win was a nervy one for City, who were left desperately hanging on in the last minutes to keep out a fast-finishing Victory – whose night turned from bad to worse after substitute Robbie Kruse limped off with a hamstring injury in the last six minutes.
Erick Mombaerts was forced to make several changes to his defence, with Rostyn Griffiths partnering Curtis Good at centre back.
In need of a big performance, City sought to silence its critics early as Adrian Luna combined with Florin Berenguer to open the scoring eight minutes in.
The Urugyuan creatively moved past Ben Carrigan – with the ball deftly bouncing off his back away from the Victory defender – before supplying Berenguer with a pass across the 18-yard box to which the Frenchman calmly converted, notching up his maiden A-League goal.
Tom Glover was just as impressive at the other end – buoying the home supporters further after the Olyroo blocked Ola Toivonen’s attempt, albeit offside, from close range in the 11th minute after a Tim Hoogland through ball.
After conceding three goals from corners last week, City fans would have had their hearts in their mouths when an unmarked Storm Roux connected with a Migjen Basha corner in the 25th minute but was unable to direct it on target.
The nervy moments continued for City as a Glove brain-fade saw Victory awarded an indirect freekick inside the box after the 22-year-old picked up a back-pass.
The resulting set piece saw Toivonen drill the ball into a congested six-yard box which bounced off the body of Hoogland, onto the post and into the arms of a relieved Glover in the 30th minute.
New recruit Markel Susaeta galvinised the crowd when he out-muscled Toivonen in the centre of AAMI Park to win a 50/50 – a moment which would perhaps foreshadow City’s eventual triumph over its rivals.
Though neither side was going to head into the break without a fight.
Scott Jamieson’s late challenge on Elvis Kamsoba caught the attention of the Victory players, who took exception after the City skipper caught the Victory livewire on the achilles with studs from behind. Despite Victory protests Jamieson only escaped with a booking, with referee Shaun Evans not consulting with the VAR.
Carlos Salvachua wasted little time after the break calling on his stars off the bench – bringing on Robbie Kruse and Marco Rojas, with the latter receiving a hero’s welcome by the Victory fans.
Kruse fired Victory’s first attempt on target in the 64th minute before getting involved in an altercation with Berenguer – whose tackle from behind sparked a brawl between the two sides and resulted in the Frenchman going into the book.
But it was Berenguer who had the last laugh, as the 30-year-old’s backheel to keep the ball in play fell into the path of Jamie Maclaren, who fired City’s second into the net with 20 minutes to play.
In need of a spark, it was a bit of generosity from Glover which brought the Victory back into the contest.
From what appeared to be a routine save for the young goalkeeper from an Ola Toivonen set piece on the edge of the area, the ball slipped through Glover’s hands and into the back of the net in front of the Victory fans.
But the comeback became all the more difficult when Robbie Kruse limped down the race clutching his hamstring in the 84th minute – never to return to the field.
The Victory will be sweating on Kruse’s injury, especially with their first Asian Champions League match days away.
Carlos Salvachua, meanwhile, is still without an A-League win as the Victory misses the chance to edge closer towards the top six.
Melbourne City 2 (Berenguer 8’, Maclaren 71’)
Melbourne Victory 1 (Toivonen 78’)
Thomas Glover (GK), Scott Jamieson, Josh Brillante, Curtis Good, Nathaniel Atkinson (Scott Galloway 83’), Rostyn Griffiths, Florin Berenguer, Adrian Luna, Craig Noone, Jamie Maclaren (Lachlan Wales 72’), Markel Susaeta
Joe Gauci (GK), Denis Genreau, Ramy Najjarine, Kerrin Stokes, Stefan Colakovski
Lawrence Thomas (GK), Adama Traore, James Donachie, Tim Hoogland (Marco Rojas 55’), Ben Carrigan, Storm Roux, Anthony Lesiotis (Robbie Kruse 55’), Migjen Basha (Jakob Poulsen 77’), Elvis Kamsoba, Ola Toivonen, Andrew Nabbout
Brendan White, Giancarlo Gallifuoco, Brandon Lauton, Jay Barnett