A Jamie Maclaren hat-trick inspired Melbourne City to a 4-2 victory away at Central Coast Mariners on Friday.
Despite the game being played behind closed doors, those watching on TV were treated to a feast of goals as both sides went hammer and tongs at one end and looked devoid of organisation at the other.
Maclaren stole the show with his hat-trick, while Spaniard Markel Susaeta grabbed the other goal for City, which was enough to cancel out a Jordan Murray double and consign the Mariners to yet another A-League defeat.
So, what did we learn from the match in Gosford?
1. Quick out of the blocks
With the A-League witnessing a behind-closed-doors game for the first time, it would have been easy for the players to slip into a pre-season rhythm, especially given the intense heat in Gosford on Friday.
However, it appeared both sides were intent on putting on a show for audiences around the world looking to get their live football fix.
It took just 10 minutes for Melbourne City to take a 2-1 lead, with goals from Maclaren and Susaeta cancelling out Murray’s surprise opener for the Mariners — this was only the second game in A-League history to see three goals within the opening 10 minutes.
The chances kept on coming for both sides throughout an entertaining first half as these two traded blows like heavyweight boxers, offering up a real feast in front of a sadly empty stadium. It only took three minutes of the second half before Maclaren once again found the back of the net as the action did anything but let up after the break.
2. Maclaren leapfrogs Le Fondre in Golden Boot race
The A-League Golden Boot race is really hotting up with Maclaren and Besart Berisha (15) just one goal behind Adam Le Fondre (16) prior to kick-off. Maclaren has been in red-hot form for City recently, however, and appears hell-bent on taking that prize for himself.
It took the 26-year-old just five minutes to get on the scoresheet on Friday, cancelling out Murray’s opener for the Mariners with a smart finish, while he doubled his tally for the day shortly after half-time to seal the win for City.
Maclaren completed his hat-trick — the first-ever in this fixture — late into the second half to move him two ahead of Le Fondre, who will get his chance to respond in Saturday’s Sydney derby. However, with three proven A-League goalscorers chasing the prize, this could go all the way to the final day.
3. Mariners repeat unwanted history
It’s been a really miserable season for the Mariners, who have now taken just 13 points from 22 games so far — Alen Stajcic’s men are seven points adrift of 10th-placed Melbourne victory.
Friday’s defeat carried extra unwanted significance, though, as it means they’ve now lost 10 consecutive A-League matches — a club record which was only set last season.
The Mariners haven’t picked up any points since a 3-2 victory over Melbourne Victory back in mid-January and given how they now appear to be going through the motions, at least defensively, you can bet it’ll be a while before they threaten to put another point on the board.
4. Mariners defence crumbles again
Okay, so the Mariners are the lowest scorers in the A-League with just 22 goals, but on Friday, they showed plenty of attacking promise, especially early on as they sought to catch City off guard. The likes of Murray and Tommy Oar combined well to cause City some genuine problems, highlighted with the former’s two goals.
An underperforming attack is to be expected from the league’s basement club. What is a serious problem for Stajcic is the Mariners’ leaky defence.
City’s four-goal haul in Gosford on Friday means the Mariners have now conceded 51 times in 22 games during 2019/20 — the next-closest team to them in this regard is Newcastle Jets with 37.
As the game wore on, four could have easily turned into five, six or seven as City turned the screw, getting in behind the Mariners’ defence at will and splitting them open with alarming ease. It was only some inspired goalkeeping from Mark Birighitti and some wasteful City finishing which stemmed the tide in the end.
If the Mariners are to even think about challenging next season, that defence needs some serious surgery.
5. Erick Mombaerts’ absence doesn’t hold City back
Such are the times we’re living in, Melbourne City manager Erick Mombaerts made the understandable decision to stay away from Friday’s game. Coronavirus is currently causing havoc around the globe and at 64 years old, the Frenchman very much falls into the “at-risk” category.
Instead, managerial duties were left to assistant Patrick Kisnorbo — himself an experienced coach, winning a number of honours with Melbourne City’s women’s side before taking to the dugout with Mombaerts.
Despite some slightly questionable defending, Mombaerts needn’t have worried as City continued to show all of the attacking verve which has defined them this season, registering 23 shots and coming close to adding to their four goals on a number of occasions.
Whether Mombaerts will be able to return to the dugout again this season, or whether the campaign will carry on at all beyond this weekend is anyone’s guess but with Maclaren and Co running riot in Gosford, City remain in good hands.