City win dramatic Melbourne derby
John van 't Schip's men, maddeningly inconsistent from week to week, have a reputation for turning up when local bragging rights are at stake and they did nothing to dispel that notion in round 11, demonstrating to a packed AAMI Park what they are capable of but so infrequently produce.
Equally typically, it was a lack of cutting edge that nearly prevented City from claiming all three points, while Victory only have themselves to blame after failing to reach their usual high standards for the second week in succession.
For the Big V players, the fury of head coach Kevin Muscat after seeing his men give up their unbeaten record to the nouveau riche upstarts from north of the Yarra River does not bear thinking about.
What they said
"I thought the lads played really well today so we got our rewards in the end. It's massive, it's massive for this club. If we're going to be a serious contender for the league in the future we've got to win these sort of games against our biggest rivals and that's a step in the right direction." - Melbourne City FC's Erik Paartalu
1-0 (Paartalu 91')
Mate Dugandzic swung in an inch-perfect cross and towering midfielder Paartalu did the rest, climbing above the Victory defence to power a header past Nathan Coe, sparking scenes of wild celebrations among the City's staff and supporters.
Fahid Ben Khalfallah had the ball in the back of the net on 74 minutes after Tando Velaphi couldn't hold Leigh Broxham's drive. Berisha's effort on the rebound was blocked and fell to 'FBK', but his strike was ruled out for offside, perhaps harshly according to television replays.
Aaron Mooy struck Coe and then the bar in the 90th minute, Victory desperately hacking the ball behind for a corner. It looked like they would escape by the skin of their teeth, but Paartalu had other ideas.
Opta Data key stats
Melbourne City had 21 shots to Victory's nine in the match, seven of them on target compared to just four for the Big V. Those numbers tell the story of a deserved win.
In the first half at AAMI Park young Ben Garuccio walked into the Melbourne City shopfront and confidently removed the advert saying 'Wanted: Left-back. Apply Within'.
While still meeting van 't Schip's key fullback prerequisite of not being a fullback, the 19-year-old tormented Jason Geria on the overlap, setting up one of his team's best chances and managing to succeed where most fullbacks have failed this season in keeping former Alania Vladikavkaz flyer Kosta Barbarouses relatively quiet.
He couldn't maintain the same level of performance after the break, as the New Zealand international, often joining forces with a drifting Besart Berisha, increasingly probed down the right. But Garuccio certainly looks a better bet than Iain Ramsay.
That vein will have been popping in Kevin Muscat's forehead when Jacob Melling escaped with a yellow card for swinging a dangerous elbow in the direction of Broxham, sparking an all-in pushing match that was more playground scrap than Fight Club brawl.
Back to the drawing board
Already missing banned captain Mark Milligan, Muscat's decision to field Archie Thompson off Berisha didn't pay dividends in the first half, as Victory missed Guilherme Finkler's incisiveness and natural playmaking. Is the scorer of a hat-trick un-droppable? Certainly Ben Khalfallah merited his selection. For Muscat, just like in his playing days, with a juicy piece of opposing winger tantalisingly in reach of his studs, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
The Final Word
City's most important victory of the season will give them considerable confidence going into the Boxing Day clash with league leaders Perth Glory, while Victory will seek to mount a response at home to Newcastle Jets the following day. Phil Stubbins' men should beware the Big V backlash Muscat will demand from his charges.
Melbourne City: Velaphi, Garuccio, Kisnorbo, Chapman, Hoffman, Paartalu, Mooy, Melling (Koren 61'), Dugandzic, Williams (Mauk 89'), Ramsay (Brown 70').
Melbourne Victory: Coe, Geria, Leijer, Ansell, Murnane, Broxham, Valeri (Mahazi 70'), Thompson (Finkler 61'), Ben Khalfallah (Pain 82'), Barbarouses, Berisha.
Scorers: Paartalu, 91'
Red cards: None
Yellow cards: Hoffman 26', Geria 34', Melling 55', Ben Khalfallah 55', Ramsay 66', Mooy 92', Berisha 94'
Conditions: 20 degree, dry
Attendance: 26,372 @ AAMI Park