It’s fair to say that Warren Joyce probably wasn’t expecting to have so many selection headaches heading into the first week of the 2018-19 A-League finals.
Seemingly assured of finishing in the sixth position on the table heading into the campaign’s final round, Joyce made a host of changes to his squad against Central Coast Mariners last Friday night; running out a starting XI with an average age of 23 and a substitutes bench comprised entirely of teenagers.
City needed a seven-goal swing between their goal difference and the fifth-placed Wellington Phoenix to reverse the positioning between the two clubs on the table, leading to most observers pencilling in a Melbourne Derby elimination final for the first week of the finals.
Fate, however, had different ideas.
A 5-0 thumping of the Mariners by Joyce’s juniors combined with a 5-0 capitulation by the Phoenix to Glory meant that City will instead travel to Adelaide for the first of what they hope will be three finals games; set to clash with Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium on Sunday evening.
A number of players that missed that game with the Mariners such as defender Ritchie De Laet, goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic and striker Jamie Maclaren are all but certain to slot straight back into City’s starting lineup.
However, despite doing it against the A-League’s bottom team, the impressiveness of City’s win in round 27 may be forcing Joyce to slightly adjust his plans.
“It’s what you want,” Joyce said ahead of his side’s flight to Adelaide on Friday.
“Everyone is putting themselves forward. Everyone wants to put their hat in the ring. They’ve trained well this week and it’s what you want in football clubs. There’ll be some people disappointed they’re not starting and there’ll be some disappointed they’re not travelling, but that’s football.
“And the group have, considering everything that’s gone on this year, they’ve had a fantastic spirit and fantastic togetherness.
“They’ve stuck together all season and I’m sure they’ll stick together. The ones who are left out have taken it on the chin before and been tremendous helping the rest of the group and I’m sure they’ll continue to do that.”
One player that particularly impressed last week was Ramy Najjarine.
A day before he was named the recipient of City’s Rising Star Award – which last year went to his friend Daniel Arzani – Najjarine scored his maiden A-League goal against the Mariners with a sweetly taken left-footed effort as the game neared its conclusion.
Reports from The Daily Telegraph have linked the young attacker with a loan move to Alen Stajcic’s Mariners next season in pursuit of more game time but, first, he’ll likely consider himself a good chance of taking the field against a Reds side that hasn’t beaten City since Joyce arrived at the club.
City defeated Adelaide 2-0 at Hindmarsh Stadium in round eight of the 2018-19 season, with the other two meetings between the sides resulting in draws.
Joyce however, doesn’t think that previous form will count for anything come this Sunday.
“I don’t think it’s any relevance,” Joyce explained.
“I don’t think…if we’d lost every game that we’d ever played against them, it would have no relevance coming into this game. It’s a one-off game. It’s a Cup tie, anything can happen in Cup ties and we’ve got to make sure we’re at our very best.
“I think the players are pretty confident that, whoever they play, if we’re at our maximum we can beat anybody.
“You can’t be complacent, you cant look at things like we beat them all the time. The players know that us at our very best could beat anybody in the league and that’s all we’re concerned about.
“You know that they’re a well-organised side, they’re experienced, they make good decisions, they don’t give up, they keep going, they can win.
“They’re an honest, well drilled team with no passengers.”