It’s my favourite day of the year: the day between Valentine’s Day and my birthday, and the A-League has gifted me a Nix/City match up. The best A-League games are like the most promising of both first dates and birthdays. There’s trepidation; you’re excited but don’t want to get your hopes up. You’ve done your research; but the balls in the box could still go either way. Then suddenly you find yourself flying to New Zealand?
I digress (don’t we always). The stadium is packed out. The game’s at Auckland and more than 15k people have rocked up because lately both teams have been killing it. Gary Hooper is back starting for the Nix – he’s been scoring 1 out of every 3 of his attempts. There are no surprises in the City line up. The Nix have very good feet, very early, and it feels like all the possession. LIberato Cacace fouls Markel Susaeta and the boos are stratospheric. Ladies, gentlemen and friends, we have a game on our hands!
City has Jamie Maclaren, though, and he’s a roaming sniper, threatening whenever he gets the ball. So the Nix keep it very well clear of him. Early chances from both he and Adrian Luna find the very safe hands of Stefan Marinovic. City’s Rostyn Griffiths makes the clearance of the season at the other end when a ball slips past City keeper Tom Glover and approaches the line, Griffiths urgently lunging to hit the ball just before it crosses over.
What’s there to say about the Nix’s Rene Piscopo? Takes a blinder of a free kick for the Olyroos, follows it up not long after with one tonight that causes chaos in the box and rebounds finding Matti Steinman for his first ever A-League goal… should it have been allowed. But VAR says Gary Hooper was offside so the score remains nil all.
City look a bit jetlagged and never moreso than when Gary Hooper gets the ball on the break in the 57th minute and sprints down the right, crossing it into David Ball who bears down on the goal thundering it into the back of the box. Nails it. The Nix are stoked. The crowd is standing up with them. The sky looks epic and City is dejected with half an hour to go.
Marinovic continues his masterclass, punching away a bullet from a Luna free kick in the 69th minute. It’s City’s last good chance, and the Nix close them out at 1-0.
The race is on at the right time of the season, with only Sydney looking unbeatable. The Nix take on Western United at home next week, while Melbourne City can shake it off with the bye and Brisbane the week after.
By Kelly Simpson