The journey of Western United to the A-League took another step on Tuesday afternoon, as the newcomers met Melbourne City in a behind closed doors friendly at the City Football Academy.
Running out 2-1 winners over their Melbourne-based rivals, the contest marked the first occasion in which United had clashed with A-League opposition since their birth; although the tempo and intensity that the game was conducted with clearly demonstrated both sides were very much just treating it as nothing more than a regulation, pre-season hit out.
Playing without the services of star recruit Alessandro Diamanti, who was held back as a precautionary measure after developing a slight niggle in training last week, United took the lead in the first half of the contest after a back pass from City defender Harrison Delbridge took an awkward bobble on its way back to goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis before scooting underneath his boot and into the net.
It was one of a number of occasions in which City, who were playing without the services of Socceroos striker Jamie Maclaren, defender Richard Windbichler and five Olyroos, appeared to be lacking in cohesion at the back during the contest.
Nonetheless, the hosts were able to make it 1-1 early in the second half thanks to a nice bit of combination play between young attackers Moudi Najjar and Ramy Najjarine; the former getting into space near the byline and whipping a cross in for the latter to slide in and send home at the back post.
Starting on the right-wing, Najjarine showed a number of flashes of his latent potential in the fixture, with opposite winger Craig Noone also producing some classy touches before he departed and captain Scott Jamieson darting dangerously forward from his left-back position on a number of occasions.
United, however, secured a lead they would not surrender in the 58th minute when a sloppy City defence was unable to properly clear a ball whipped in from the left and coughed it up to second-half substitute Valentino Yuel.
Continuing his impressive pre-season since signing from NPL Victoria side Bentleigh Greens he then made no mistake as he fired home.
Starting in the midfield, Max Burgess produced a number of good pieces of play for the visitors whilst Ersan Gülüm continued to emerge as a clear leader of the side from his position at centre back.
Fresh off making it one from one against A-League opposition – albeit in behind closed doors, pre-season format – Western United Head Coach Mark Rudan said he was pleased with what he saw.
“Lot of positives there,” Rudan said.
“What it does is give the boys a lot of confidence because it’s that old… it’s a great unknown. We’ve played some NPL teams and it’s really hard to understand exactly where we are in terms of a litmus test.
“But today, against a team that’s in the FFA Cup, that are fitter than us right now – we’re nowhere near where we need to be – it was a good hit out.
“[It’s] still a long way off until week one, we’ve still got some A-League teams to play.
“We use this for a reason, there aren’t three points up for grabs but we use it for what we need to use it on and today we were working on certain things and there were some positives.
“Their understanding, their position, the skill sets and their roles and responsibilities now when we have the ball and don’t and in transition.”
Disappointed about the result, City Head Coach Erick Mombaerts said that there was definite room for improvement from his squad but was also able to find some positives.
“A little bit [disappointed] for the guys because we conceded two goals,” the French gaffer said post-game
“We gave them two goals and we created some good chances of goal. So, disappointed about this.
“We need to be better in combination play, we need to do more to break through this well-organised defence. They play with five at the back, very compact block, so we need to do more in combination play.
“The high press was very good in the first half; we regained a lot of ball. When we regained the ball in the opposing half, we need to do more for the last pass. It was worse because we did well on the high press, very well, the first half was very good on this.
“Oh yes, we need to improve, we know this, but also it’s difficult because we don’t have all of our players.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Western United announced the signing of Croatian midfielder Dario Jertec, who played with former Socceroo Josip Skoko at Hajduk Split in 2008.
Taking the fourth of United’s five foreign player slots for the 2019/20 season, dailyfootballshow.com understands that the final slot will likely be used on an attacker to compliment the already contracted Scott McDonald and Apostolos Stamatelopoulos.
HEADER IMAGE CREDIT: Melbourne City