Melbourne City have taken a giant stride towards A-League finals qualification with a 1-0 win over fellow finals hopefuls Brisbane Roar at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
Sixth-placed City are now eight points clear of the reigning champions, who have a game in hand over their direct rivals but with only five matches remaining to try and catch John van 't Schip's men.
The home side made a fast start and took a deserved early lead through Jonatan Germano, before the title-holders, weakened by injuries and international absentees, slowly took hold of the ball, if not the contest.
Missing the guile of Thomas Broich and the energy of captain Matt McKay, Frans Thijssen's side threatened only sporadically despite having plenty of possession, with frequent mid-week rescheduled A-League matches and AFC Champions League commitments clearly taking a toll on the depleted Queensland club.
WHAT THEY SAID
"It's a big result for us - that's three wins in a row which we haven't done all season. It keeps our pretty impressive home form going which is great. We've still got some games to go and you can never discount Brisbane Roar, I'm sure they'll fight to the last minute." - Melbourne City midfielder Erik Paartalu
"It's disappointing in the end we didn't get any points to go home with but credit to City they played well tonight. We're short on numbers at the moment so everyone has to put in a good shift and hopefully we don't get any more injuries." - Brisbane Roar defender Jade North
1-0 (Germano 5')
A sustained period of early City pressure and possession saw Robert Koren swing in a cross from the left and Josh Kennedy rise above Jade North to power a header towards the line.
Goalkeeper Jamie Young got a hand to it but could only succeed in parrying the ball straight to Germano, who gleefully tucked it away from point-blank range.
Clear-cut chances were almost nonexistent for the Roar, who did go close when Brandon Borrello burst into the box, collected Devante Clut's pass and shot at the near post, forcing Tando Velaphi to tip the ball behind for a corner six minutes before the break.
That was a close as Brisbane game to breaking City down, which tells you all you need to know about this limp contest.
The Roar could boast 59 percent possession by the 90th minute but had registered only two shots on target. Toothless.
As if the visitors didn't have enough personnel missing, Jerome Polenz didn't even make it to kick-off. The German defender was a late withdrawal due to a suspected quadriceps strain and had to be replaced by Jade North, himself having only just recovered from a groin problem.
James Brown, the match-winner for City away to Sydney FC last weekend, could only manage 30 minutes before an ankle injury forced him off, Harry Novillo took his place.
THE FINAL WORD
City are back in Parramatta next Friday, just three matches after losing 3-2 away to Western Sydney. They will need to improve on that careless loss to the Wanderers to keep their finals challenge on track.
The Roar will host Central Coast at Suncorp Stadium a night earlier, desperate to put what little pressure they can on Van 't Schip's men.
Melbourne City: Velaphi, Retre, Kisnorbo, Jaliens, Clisby, Paartalu, Germano, Koren, Dugandzic (Williams 51'), Kennedy (Murdocca 56'), Brown (Novillo 30').
Brisbane Roar: Young, Hingert, North, Bowles, Stefanutto, Lustica, Brattan, Borrello, Clut, Petratos, Solorzano.
Scorers: Germano (5'),
Red cards: None
Yellow cards: Brown (27'), Paartalu (64')
Conditions: 17 degrees, dry
Attendance: 9,561 @ AAMI Parkcomments