It surprised many when Melbourne City marquee Ritchie De Laet started as a striker for City but, according to Head Coach Warren Joyce, it’s an arrow he’s known the 30-year-old has had in his quiver since they both spent time together at Old Trafford.
City defeated Brisbane Roar 1-0 at AAMI Park on Friday night, stretching their unbeaten run of games to five and shooting themselves into a three-way tie for the second position on the A-League table.
The 6,348 in attendance could scarcely believe their eyes on the kick-off, though, when right-back by trade De Laet lined up not on the flank of the City defence but instead leading City’s line.
The improvisation from Joyce delivered in spades in the 52nd minute of the game, however, when De Laet brushed off the attentions of Jack Hingert – sending the Roar defender to the turf – before hammering a floated delivery from Rostyn Griffiths on the half-volley.
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“Ritchie started his career as a forward,” Joyce explained when quizzed on De Laet’s positional switch.
“He played in the reserves for Manchester United before, he scored hat tricks to win leagues in the reserves so it’s not a position he’s never played before.
“I think it’s easier for him playing centre forward than it is playing right wing.
“He’s put himself out there. It’s been documented a couple of weeks ago that he was diagnosed as being out for two months.
“He was told to rest, he didn’t choose to rest.
“He chose to play and has actually shown a great act of unselfishness because he has put his career at risk.
“If it had gone pear-shaped, he’s going back from here with no contract in England and maybe injured and being out for the rest of the season.
“We have had to manage him through it we have had to give him injections nearly every game.
“But he has shown a desire to come to the country and play, not for monetary reasons.
“It would have been an easier choice for him to duck it, and choose not to play, not put himself out there, but the last few weeks he has put himself on the line.
“He has a pride in himself, and its ingrained in him to help the football club.
“You get some players who are selfish and just care about money, looking after themselves and having a nice lifestyle and having nice meals – particularly here in Melbourne – he could have stayed injured for a couple of weeks, gone out to the tennis, pottered around and had a nice life.
“He’s put himself up to be shot because he is a marquee. He’s put himself out there for the good of the team and the cause.”
The victory over Roar sends City into a three-way tie with Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory for second place on the A-League table, a status that could easily become an outright one with a win over bottom-placed Central Coast Mariners mid-week.
Reflecting on the performance that got his side into this favourable position, Joyce was quick to heap praise on his entire squad; highlighting the desire and hunger that they have shown.
“I think everyone has stood up in the past few weeks,” Joyce said.
“Curtis Good has come in tonight, a Melbourne lad on minimum wage and no money (who is) desperate to play for the football club.
“Lachie Wales is another one, (Harrison) Delbridge is another one, ask him to play in goal and he would do a job for you.
“Look around the team and there’s a lot of people like that.
“There are times when we could be better at certain things, but it’s certainly not for lack of effort, lack of commitment to the cause of trying to help the club grow.
“I thought the first half we played some good football.
“I thought we would have been good value for two or three goals.
“I was disappointed that some good chances didn’t end with goals. There was maybe one good save but some poor finishes, ones that didn’t even hit the target. We could have made the game a lot easier for ourselves.
“Second half there are one or two tired bodies in the more creative areas and we didn’t retain possession long enough.
“They attacked us – they have some good experienced players – some clever players who can score. We had to weather it, we did and I thought we deserved the three points.
“But we could have made the game a lot easier for ourselves in the first.”