City breeze to first win under new boss as Sky Blues leaders react to challenging league start

Melbourne City v Sydney FC - Highlights | Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 | Round 03

The Aurelio Vidmar era has kicked off in style at Melbourne City, as they reigning Isuzu UTE A-League Premiers bounced back from consecutive league defeats to notch an impressive 2-0 win over Sydney FC at AAMI Park.

Vidmar took over from Rado Vidosic as head coach of the reigning Isuzu UTE A-League Premiers in midweek after City’s disastrous 6-0 loss to Adelaide United in Round 2; his first game in charge came at home on Friday night, with goals to Steven Ugarkovic and Jamie Maclaren on either side of half-time the difference in a win over the Sky Blues.

The comfortable win for City dealt Sydney FC a third-consecutive loss to start the season. After the off-season high of lifting the Australia Cup, Steve Corica’s side have endured the worst start to an Isuzu UTE A-League season after three rounds in club history, with three defeats on the spin.

Ugarkovic scored his first goal for City on the cusp of half-time, producing a moment of class from the edge of the area in a half otherwise bereft of quality contributions. 

Joe Lolley had gone close on a number of occasions for the visitors, and Maclaren threatened to break his five-game scoring drought in the league with a header which flashed wide of Sydney’s goal. Then came Ugarkovic’s opener, squeezed past goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne with a low drive into the bottom-left corner.

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The Sky Blues needed a response after half-time – and what they produced in the opening minute of the second stanza was certainly not what head coach Steve Corica was hoping for.

The Sydney defence was all at sea as City pushed forward from kick-off, with Tolgay Arslan’s first-time pass sending Marin Jakoliš free down the left wing to cross to Maclaren for a simple finish.

Corica rang the chances after the hour mark. Young prospects Jaiden Kucharski, Zachary de Jesus, Corey Hollman and Mitchell Glasson all entered the fray – as did big-name signing Fabio Gomes, who began to turn the tide with his presence in the Sky Blues attack.

Anthony Caceres set up Fabio with a pair of dangerous crosses, with the Brazilian striker heading marginally off target on both occasions.

City navigated through a brief period of Sky Blue pressure to keep their clean sheet intact and notch a much-needed 2-0 win at AAMI Park, with Sydney FC grappling the reality of a worst-ever start to an A-League Men campaign.

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What they said

Off-season City signing Marin Jakoliš was a lively contributor to City’s three-point display, assisting Maclaren from point-blank range for the second goal and combining with the ever-classy Tolgay Arslan on a number of occasions throughout the night.

Jakoliš is a Croatian with an Australian passport who, post-game, hinted at his intent to insert himself into the Socceroos selection conversation with a good run of form in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

“It was a hard start, a hard two games, we were doing well in the Champions League but in the A-League we were not ourselves,” Jakoliš told Paramount+. “We just put our heads together. We knew what we needed to do and we showed today we are capable of beating anybody – especially at AAMI Park – and I think we had a control of the game from minute one until the end. If we continue like this there is no problem for us, whoever we face.

And as for his Australian links… “My father was here until he was 15 or 16 years old, then he moved to Croatia,” Jakoliš explained.

“He was smart enough to get the Australian passport (for me) as well, and I continued with it. Now I’m happy I have it.

“Potentially, if everything goes as plan and the team performs like this, then I think there is no problem with (pushing for the Socceroos) as well!”

The talking point

Sydney FC had never lost three games to start an Isuzu UTE A-League season before Friday night’s 2-0 loss to City.

After the final whistle at AAMI Park, Sky Blues leader Rhyan Grant addressed where he felt the club was falling short at the start of the season, suggesting complacency had set in following victory over Brisbane Roar in the Australia Cup final less than one month ago.

“We started pre-season in the cup really well and ended up winning that, but I think we’re getting a bit complacent after winning a trophy,” he told Paramount+.

“It’s obviously not good enough. It’s dire straits at the minute. It’s far from good enough, let alone at the start of the season. Our fans are definitely not happy, we know that, we feel that too, we know we’re not performing as well as we should be. 

“We’re a big club and expect a lot more and have high standards… we have to try as much we we can, it’s not much of an excuse, we just have to do what we can do to get out of it, because it’s not good enough at the minute.”

Grant then suggested senior players like himself need to step up in the coming weeks to match the exuberance shown from the younger members of the sqaud – many of whom came off the bench in the second half to inject life into Sydney’s performance.

“We’ve tried a few different things the last 10 days after the first couple of losses, so we definitely have to try something different,” he said. “Obviously it’s not working at the minute, us older players probably have to do a little bit more, myself not playing as well as I could be and the young boys are doing really well when they’re given their chance too.

“It’s about making sure we’re all playing well and doing what we can for this club.”

The star

There was tough competition among City’s top performers for the label of best afield – but the plaudits go to Steven Ugarkovic for an imposing performance in midfield.

Ugarkovic was everywhere for City on the night, suffocating the Sky Blues with his work up and down the ground.

He displayed plenty of the attributes he shows week in, week out as one of the most dependable midfielders in the Isuzu UTE A-League – but on Friday night he added a classy goal to his repertoire to set City on course to an impressive win at home.

What it means

For City, it’s sweet relief after the turbulence of the week just gone, with that 6-0 loss to Adelaide United leading to Rado Vidosic’s departure and the arrival of Aurelio Vidmar as the club’s new head coach.

But with a win at AAMI Park, City shifted Sydney FC to the foot of the table. The Sky Blues will be under immense pressure to turn the tide – but a difficult road trip to Coopers Stadium to face Adelaide United awaits in Round 4.