Melbourne City never sought to outplay Sydney FC. They didn't care to make a statement and they certainly had no interest in looking pretty either. They only had eyes to beat the reigning champions in their own backyard. Even then, it accounted for nothing.
The Sky Blues battled their way through a wall of Melbourne City defenders to claim a hard-fought 3-1 win at Allianz Stadium on Friday night to extend their commanding lead at the top of the A-League table. They had to overcome what is regarded in football as the ultimate respect - a team stacked with defenders, playing deep with a suffocating press - and they nearly fell victim to the tactic.
Melbourne City stemmed their rampant attacks of recent games but still could find no answer to the individual brilliance within the Sky Blues' ranks and the fortune that favours those in form. A stunning free kick from Adrian Mierzejewski, a penalty for Bobo and a late screamer for captain Alex Brosque continued Sydney FC's dominance in spite of a workman-like performance well below their normal standards.
"The whole performance was a bit flat. Without the ball, the energy wasn't as great as normal," Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold said.
Much of that had to do with the discipline of Melbourne. In every sense, their style was the antithesis of their parent club. They were disciplined, aggressive while slight on creativity and potency. That mattered little as they restricted Sydney FC to few genuine chances and territory within their own half.
Their press prised open opportunities, two of which should have been converted by Ross McCormack. He should have given City the lead before being forced off with an injury on the half-hour mark.
However, it didn't dent Melbourne's plans to leave with a smash-and-grab win. Eight minutes later, they stole the lead with assistance from the Video Assistant Referee, who spotted that Luke Brattan's shot from the edge of the area crossed the line before bouncing back into play.
For a brief moment, City's plans began to look the by-product of a tactical ingenuity until Mierzejewski produced another moment of magic. Sydney FC found little luck from open play but that mattered little as the Polish international unleashed a stunning 25-yard free kick beyond the reach of City goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis to restore parity for the hosts in the 44th minute.
The tone of Arnold's team talk was changed dramatically after Sydney FC were awarded a penalty when Bert Schenkerveld fouled Jordy Buijs inside the box. Brazilian striker Bobo made no mistake on the stroke of half-time, guiding a penalty into the corner of the net to grab the lead for the hosts.
Mierzejewski should have come close to doubling their advantage when his header was flashed narrowly wide of goal shortly after the restart. Sydney FC were going to leave nothing to chance in their quest to extend their lead at the summit of the A-League and introduced star playmaker Milos Ninkovic into the contest before the hour, ending his three-game absence due to a calf injury.
As the game wore on, tempers simmered to a boil. Bobo could find himself facing a ban for kicking Manny Muscat off the ball, unsighted by the referee, while a moment of madness from Muscat ended his night prematurely. The fullback was sighted deliberately elbowing Sydney's Michael Zullo in the head and the intervention of the VAR gave referee Shaun Evans little choice but to give Muscat his marching orders in the 70th minute. However, Melbourne City coach Warren Joyce didn't agree and was furious with the officiating.
"I don't think there was contact at the time, I haven't seen the replay," he said. "Frustrating doesn't come anywhere near my feelings."
With the last kick of the game, Brosque wrapped up the win in stunning fashion. Sydney's captain unleashed a stinging right-foot half-volley on the edge of the area that rattled the roof of the net to put Sydney temporarily eight points clear at the top of the table, after only 11 games.