Melbourne City has stretched its unbeaten streak to five games and launched themselves into a three-way tie for second place on the A-League table with a 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar.
Ritchie De Laet’s fourth goal of the season in the 52nd minute propelled Joyce’s side over their orange-clad foes; an usually positive opening 60 minutes laying the foundation for the most aesthetically pleasing performance laid out by the Bundoora based side in many weeks.
It served as an important marker for City who, despite their unbeaten run, had appeared shaky in the second half of their 2-1 win over Newcastle earlier in the week; the Jets unlucky not to jag an equaliser as they finished over the top.
Yet, a late fadeout in the final ten minutes did give the Roar some semblance of sniff late in the contest in front of 6,348 fans, giving Roar interim boss Darren Davies something to continue to build on in future weeks.
The surprises began before a ball had even been kicked at AAMI Park when it became apparent that marquee De Laet, who began play at right back in all of his other A-League appearances, was to commence as City’s lone striker.
The Belgian had been carrying a number of injuries in the lead into Friday evening’s contest, with Joyce on Thursday stating that the 30-year-old had been playing through maladies that had been initially been earmarked as the type that would keep him out for a period of months, but despite this – or perhaps because of it – he led City’s line.
From the kick-off, it then became readily apparent that the changes Joyce had made to his City side extended not only to the starting XI, but also, they went about their business on the park.
Though it was far from a shining example of jugo bonito, City appeared significantly more positive in their forays forward in the opening 45 minutes, actively looking to penetrate the Roar’s area rather than set up camp on its periphery and bore their foes to death with metronomic passing.
This transformation served to give City an early advantage.
Luke Brattan collected a long pass looped into the area from Jamieson in the seventh minute and forced the Roar to deflect his resulting shot out for a corner, allowing Rostyn Griffiths to meet the resulting set piece with a header that went directly into the arms of Jamie Young.
Two minutes later Lachlan Wales, shifted from his role as City’s striker out onto the wing, got on the end of a long, cross-field pass from Griffiths and forced Young to tap the ball over the bar for a corner.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for City early, however, when on 14 minutes dynamic winger Riley McGree limped from the field after copping a minor knock to his knee.
Another one-two series of chances then followed for City, when Kearyn Baccus – with new, three and half year contract in hand – set Wales up for another shot on the right that was put out by Young for a corner.
Brattan’s subsequent delivery found to the head of a diving De Laet, the ball rocketing to Wales and allowing the youngster to tap in from the near post.
However, City’s celebrations were soon cut short by the flag of the linesman; Wales having wandered into an offside position prior to De Laet’s pass.
Roar was able to endure the early challenges laid at their feet by City, though, and began to settle into the game as the half progressed.
Controversially one of their best chances of the half was denied by referee Stephen Lucas before it could even get going, the referee blowing his whistle to signal for offside after Eric Bautheac played Adam Taggart through on goal before even the linesman had raised his flag.
Replays, though, showed that Taggart had a strong argument for being onside.
Bautheac then turned provider from a corner, putting the ball on the head of Jacob Pepper in the 39th minute only for the defender to direct his headed effort straight at Eugene Galekovic.
Moments before half time City were able to return fire, Griffiths once again popping up to produce a thunderbolt from around 25-yards-out that forced Young to leap skyward to punch away.
Chances to De Leat and Jamieson followed soon after the second half resumed before City, through the services of their improvised striker, took the lead.
Seizing on an attempted Roar clearance from a City corner Baccus slide the ball out to Griffiths to his right.
Looking up, the City midfielder launched a perfectly weighted floated ball over the Roar defence to meet the darting run of De Laet, who had effortlessly shrugged off the attention of Jack Hingert.
Appearing as though he’d spent his entire career as nothing but a striker, De Leat coolly met the ball in stride and knocked a sweet half-volley past Young and into the back of the net.
Some nice work from Bautheac and Thomas Kristensen kept the Roar in with a sniff following De Laet’s strike; setting the stage for Roar to threaten City with a strong finish.
Henrique flashed a volleyed effort across the face of goal from a throw in the 84th minute, before a calamitous attempted clearance by Vidosic went right to Nicholas D’Agostino inside the penalty area, who seized up the gilt-edged chance by firing a shot on target that Galekovic could only parry away.
The danger had yet to pass, though, with Bautheac firing a follow-up effort wide.