It was a sumptumous Samir Nasri volley for City that broke the Melbourne Hearts of sibling fans in a historic match in Queensland’s Gold Coast. For the most part, Melbourne matched their ‘big brothers, even with several substitutions prioritising game time perhaps over the result even. Two great chances were spurned either side of half time, but City stole the win in this first ever meeting of the sides.
For the opening exchanges, City looked to keep possession as the sun set over an almost at capacity CBus Stadium, filled with travelling Mancunians and Melburnians from all corrners of Australia, as well as the local Gold Coast community who came out in numbers to support the game. Yaya Toure set the pace of the match, playing City’s metronome as they looked to settle in and create chances for Brandon Barker who was flanked by Nasri and Jesus Navas.
It was arguably the Spaniard who looked most dangerous for City, when allowed freedom on the right he exploited space to fire several crosses in the box, but failed to make any clear cut chances for Barker who has raised his own bar with strong performances in this close season.
This was a first glance at City for the Australian following, but typical of most David & Golliath match ups, the crowd responded positively to the Melburnians advances who entered the battle as firm underdogs. Harry Novillo stung the hands of Willy Caballero, essentially City’s number one on this tour in the absence of Joe Hart. Caballero failed to hold the ball, and Novello almost wrote himself in to Melbourne’s history books, but City got away with it, clearing the danger.
As Navas serged forward in pursuit of City’s opener, he left Maffeo exposed to the trickery of Novillo and often had City on the back foot. Robbie Koren, formerly of West Brom, put the ball on a plate for Steffan Mauk, but from three yards still managed to put the ball over the bar.
City had been let off twice. Arguably City’s best chance of the half came from Yaya Toure’s freekick. His effort swerved and smashed the top of the cross bar, met with gasps from the crowd. Still, a promising sign for the season ahead, Toure’s found his range early on.
After the break, City looked to carry the game to Melbourne a little more, pressing forward whilst Fernando sat passenger in the backseat of midfield. Nasri looked the most likely to break the deadlock, as he and Barker started to interchange, but his off the ball running was lacking, as was his match fitness.
With City struggling to carve out anything that constituted a clear cut chance, Novillo danced through the City defence and found himself one on one with Caballero; the Frenchman’s dink over the keeper trickled agonisingly wide.
From the squad that travelled, City played their strongest team, with Toure, Nasri, Navas, Gael Clichy and Vincent Kompany all featuring for the majority of the game; and it was that decision to allow the marquee players an opportunity to gain match fitness that paid off. The cross for Nasri was barely a half chances, surrounded by white shirts on the penalty spot. A deft control of the ball on the chest was followed by a perfectly struck volley that left Velaphio little chance of saving. The strike was a worthy match-winner and shouldn’t detract from the performance Melbourne City put forward. City on the other hand, can expect a sterner test in the cold of the MCG on Tuesday.