Football reality bites hard and it took a huge chunk out of Melbourne City in last Saturday night’s derby.
And with a buoyant Adelaide United arriving on their doorstep for a date at AAMI Park on Friday night, Melbourne City’s season is at a crossroads after less than a month of competition.
The 5-2 defeat exposed the yawning gap between ambition and accomplishment that City will have to cross if they are to truly challenge their cross town rivals at Melbourne Victory.
Put simply, when the battle was at its height against Victory, City wilted.
After twice being ahead in the first half they were unable to maintain their composure and intensity when challenged and, in the final analysis, were made to look second rate by Kevin Muscat’s men.
Derby days can throw up extreme results, so John van’t Schip and his coaching staff may not put too much stock in the lop-sided score line.
However, three starts without a win compounded with their run of six games without banking three points at the back end of the previous campaign means City’s last win was back on March 1 – a 4-0 rout of Victory on a much happier derby day for the team once known as Heart
If not for David Villa’s brilliance in providing an equalizer in the games against Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets, City’s cupboard could well be bare.
Villa’s stay looks set to end after Friday night’s game as he heads to New York City with no guarantee of a return to the Hyundai A League.
Even that has caused some consternation. After believing they would enjoy 10 games from the World Cup winner, City fans are saying goodbye to their Spanish superstar after a month.
The club insists they only ever promised 10 games as a maximum number of appearances and an early departure was always possible. Somewhere in the sales pitch, the message got lost.
The truth is; Villa was never the answer to City’s long term needs. And he was never sold to the faithful as such.
Van’t Schip and his team know they need to find long term and sustainable solutions to ensure Melbourne City are able to compete.
The injury to marquee man, former Hull City midfielder Robert Koren, has hurt enormously.
The Slovenian international is the playmaker van’t Schip wanted to build his team around. He will have to make do without him until December.
At the moment, City lack punch in midfield and fire power up front. Aside from Villa’s equalizers, both goals on Saturday night came from set pieces.
As fine as they were, no team serious about fighting for honours in the Hyundai A-League can have an impact without the ability to carve out and take chances in open play.
City, once shorn of Villa, look light on for goal scoring power.
David Williams and Mate Dugandzic provide reason for optimism, and the sooner they build a partnership with Damien Duff the better City will be.
Elsewhere in the middle of the park, Erik Paartalu looks a shadow of the player that made such a name for himself in Brisbane Roar’s championship teams.
Returning from stints in China and Thailand, the pace and intensity of the Hyundai A-League has come as a rude shock to Paartalu.
Last week he was bossed out of the contest by Gui Finkler and Mark Milligan. It won’t get any easier this week with Adelaide United’s Marcelo Carrusca and Isaias looking to test him for pace and endurance.
Friday night can’t come fast enough for a City team determined to put an embarrassing derby defeat behind it.
When things are tough, good teams find a way.
Melbourne City’s reality check last week is a challenge they simply must overcome this time.