City fails to put 10-man Victory away
MELBOURNE Victory salvaged a point after playing most of Saturday night's local derby with a man less.
While the draw eases the pressure valve on Melbourne City coach Warren Joyce, they failed to exploit a numerical advantage for more than 75 minutes.
Japanese star Keisuke Honda's first start and Ola Toivonen were key for Victory, although Georg Niedermeier's red card robbed Kevin Muscat of the chance of playing his visa fab five together for just the second time this season.
But Socceroos Jamie Maclaren continues to justify his big money signing, delivering yet again in the 1-1 draw at Marvel Stadium with a goal and dangerous all-round display.
City has struggled to contend with pace and Victory set up to exploit that by pairing Elvis Kamsoba and Kosta Barbarouses in attack.
They both veered wide in an attempt to drag City's central defensive pairing Bart Schenkeveld and Curtis Good out of position and open up a gap through the middle for James Troisi to penetrate.
But a nervy start and the firm surface - where players often struggled to trap the bobbling ball - affected the pace of ball movement as City's holding midfielders sat deep.
Kamsoba was then sacrificed early after the dismissal.
Marvel Stadium has been a graveyard for German Niedermeier.
In Round 1, he limped off in stoppage time with cramp moments after copping a crunching tackle from Anthony Lesiotis, who's since become a teammate.
He lasted just nine minutes in Round 7, rolling an ankle when landing awkwardly after a collision against Adelaide United.
On Saturday night he lasted just 15 minutes, copping his second yellow card after he clumsily brought down Jamie Maclaren when he was caught out of position.
Just two minutes earlier he received his first booking for a crunching tackle on Maclaren.
Eager to gain some momentum after he was dropped from Victory's Asian Champions League squad, Niedermeier's brief cameo was a nervy one.
The early dismissal forced a reshuffle as fellow stopper James Donachie came on for Kamsoba, with James Troisi dropping deeper and Honda forced wider in a 4-4-1.
Victory struggled to adapt with Kosta Barbarouses not used to playing up front on his own, nor is holding the ball up his strong point.
It wasn't until Swede Toivonen's halftime introduction that Victory found its mojo.
Toivonen - who has played wide and deep in much of his decorated career - replaced Troisi and floated in between combative Spaniard Raul Baena in midfield and striker Barbarousis, his intelligence enabled Victory to seize control.
With Honda starting off the right and Victory's other creator Terry Antonis coming off the left, there was a nice balance to midfield which enabled the full-backs to push on.
Victory found the equaliser within minutes of the restart, as Honda slipped in a delightful ball to Barbarouses who beat Eugene Galekovic at his near post, with the veteran keeper slapping the post in frustration.
Victory pushed but Honda's 77th minute withdrawal, Toivonen's lack of recent minutes and Niedermeier's send off saw the game peter put as Muscat refused to take risks with bigger fish to fry in coming months.
Jamie Maclaren described himself as the black sheep of the family and he seems to relish the role of pantomime villain.
He turned out for Hibernian after his father, Donald, played for the youth team of local Edinburgh rivals Hearts and opened his account with a famous winner away to Glasgow Rangers at Ibrox Stadium.
While Maclaren revealed that he had held talks at the start of the season with Victory - where his sister Stephanie works in the commercial department - he clearly knows where his loyalties lie.
Maclaren came out firing as the lone striker in City's 4-2-3-1 formation, with Tottenham loanee Shay Harrison coming off the right, and caused the Victory defence, and particularly Georg Niedermeier, headaches early on.
Maclaren pounced when Niedermeier misread Ritchie de Laet's through ball, cleverly positioning himself between player and ball and slowing up while preparing to shoot at Lawrence Thomas. It gave Niedermeier two options - pull up the handbrake or risk making contact.
The latter ensued, prompting a second booking for the German, who'd fouled Maclaren moments earlier.
Ice cool Maclaren stepped up and smashed the ball home into the top right corner, giving Thomas little chance despite the keeper picking the right way.
As is always the case at the Melbourne derby, City fans were heavily outnumbered by the Victory contingent in the 32,431 crowd at Marvel Stadium.
Unhelped by the fact that his penalty was at the opposite end from City fans, Maclaren celebrated in front of the Victory supporters, pressing his finger against his lips to signal the "shoosh".
Needless to say, Victory fans gave as good as they got - although we're unsure where sister Stephanie was positioned, or her reaction.
Maclaren was feeding off scraps for the rest of the game, but he evoked memories of Tim Cahill's sensational debut goal from 2016, when he pounced on Terry Antonis' sloppy pass to attempt a lob over Thomas, although it sailed just wide.
Three goals in three games is a strong return for the January signing, and he will only improve.