Melbourne City and Adelaide United found themselves unable to be separated on Saturday night, the two sides playing out a plodding 1-1 draw at AAMI Park.
Despite being bereft of incisive chances in the opening stanza, the Reds took the lead in the contest’s 43rd minute when Craig Goodwin ghosted free of the City defence to meet a and drove a Nikola Mileusnic cross past City keeper Eugene Galkeovic, off the crossbar and down, over the goal line to give his side a lead.
New signing Jamie Maclaren ensured an excellent start to his career at City when he was then able to restore the game to parity and secure his new club a point in the 69th minute; tapping in with a backheeled effort from close range after creating something out of nothing with an impressive display of defending from the front.
In the context of the season at large, the point does very little to change the fortunes of either side.
Fourth and fifth heading into the game, both sides maintain the lead they had over 6th placed Wellington with the result and inch ever so closer to third-placed Sydney; Adelaide now five points behind the Harboursiders and Melbourne six.
Empowered earlier in the week with the addition of new striker Maclaren and Shayon Harrison, the shackles were well and truly off Melbourne City Head Coach Warren Joyce ahead of Saturday’s contest; the former Hull City, Manchester United Reserves and Wigan Athletic Boss reverting to type with a 4-4-2 formation with his two new strikers at its spearhead.
There could be no greater indication that the City’s side as currently assembled is the one the Joyce has agitated for, with there now being no more excuses available should the 54-year-old fail to guide his squad to his goal of Asian Champions League qualification.
Coming off a heart-stopping, come-from-behind 4-3 win over Brisbane the week prior, Adelaide United boss Marko Kurz was not bereft of new toys either; handing a first start to Dutch loanee Jordy Thomassen and welcoming Mirko Boland into the XI after German completed his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Though shaky with his first A-League touches, Harrison played a role in creating the first clear chance of the game in the tenth minute when he won a free kick 30-yards-out from the target. Swung in, the deflected ball found its way to Good, only for his resulting header to immediately take off skyward from his head and over the bar.
Unfortunately for the 6569 in attendance, Good’s headed effort failed to provide the catalyst for a cavalcade of further chances, with the game soon degenerating into a ponderous slog in which neither side could generate much in the way of attacking momentum.
Harrison attempted to kickstart City in the 35th minute when he laid the ball off to Florin Berenguer in the corner of the penalty area, only for the Frenchman to slip and fall on his rear end as he attempted to get a shot off.
Four minutes later Harrison once again set up a chance on the Reds’ goal, flashing his Premier League pedigree with a clever backheel into the path of Maclaren at the top of the area, only for the Socceroo to drag his subsequent right-footed effort wide of the far post.
Playing a full 90 minutes, the Tottenham Hotspur product produced a promising performance in his first appearance in a City shirt. Taking a number of touches to adjust to the pace of the game, the 21-year-old demonstrated clear intent from his position as the second striker in the City attack and produced a number of chances that on another day would have fallen.
Unfortunately for the Spurs man and his new teammates, City’s wastefulness in an ugly opening 45 minutes was then punished just a minute before regulation time ended when Adelaide right winger Mileusnic broke free down the flank and drove a cross towards the City penalty spot.
Slipping away from defenders, Goodwin was able to freely meet the ball and nod it onwards towards goal; his effort cannoning off the crossbar, down over the line and before bouncing back into play.
Nevertheless, the Reds, who were forced to play 80 minutes with ten men in their madcap triumph over Roar the week prior, was unable to hold the hosts at bay for the length of the second half, shipping a second-half equaliser to a trademark Jamie Maclaren goal almost at the midpoint of the second half.
Forcing a turnover from Isaias after he had been sold into pressure by goalkeeper Paul Izzo, Maclaren continued his run forward and was in perfect position – all of two yards out – to receive a cross from Brattan and dink a nice between the legs finish in in the 69th minute.
It was the type of goal that Maclaren had been brought to Melbourne for, the 25-year-old providing the predatory instincts required to capitalise on a mistake from the opposition and possessing enough poise when he was given a chance to make them pay.
Outside of that goal, Maclaren had predominantly played off the shoulder of Reds’ central defenders Jordan Elsey and Michael Jakobsen in his 84 minutes on the park, frequently receiving very little in the way of service and struggling to assert himself against the tall defensive pairing.
Despite their stalwart reputation, City’s defensive unit threatened to undo all of their attackers work in the wake of the equaliser, however, the well organised and disciplined Reds’ attack frequently forcing lapses of concentration or soft turnovers from their opponents as they sought to regain their advantage in the final moments of the contest.