Benjamin Mazzeo and Jamie Maclaren were on target as three-time reigning Isuzu UTE A-League premiers Melbourne City snapped their winless run away from home with a 2-0 victory over Newcastle Jets.
City had gone seven matches without a win outside of Victoria but that changed on Sunday thanks to 18-year-old A-Leagues starting debutant Mazzeo and the league’s all-time leading goalscorer Maclaren at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Mazzeo broke the deadlock in the 12th minute before captain and Socceroo Maclaren made it 2-0 approaching the hour-mark as City capped a taxing week of travel by clinching just their second league win of the season.
City’s Aziz Behich was making his 100th A-Leagues appearance – 5,069 days after his debut; only one player has taken longer to reach 100 appearances in the history of the competition (Robbie Kruse – 5,196 days), while Mazzeo was also in the line-up for his starting bow.
It came after a gruelling week for City, who lost to Wellington Phoenix in Auckland last week and drew 3-3 with Ventforet Kofu in Tokyo, Japan in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday night.
But City looked fresh and at the top of their game to begin the contest at McDonald Jones Stadium, where Maclaren nearly broke the deadlock in the eighth minute.
Maclaren was slipped through on goal by Tolgay Arslan but Jets goalkeeper Ryan Scott was quick off his line to thwart the league’s all-time goalscorer and Mark Natta cleared the danger.
As Newcastle struggled defensively, City hit the front just four minutes later – Marin Jakolis’ wicked delivery into the box picked out Mazzeo and the 18-year-old headed home his first ever A-Leagues goal.
For a large period, the Jets – who had 19-year-old A-Leagues debutant Justin Vidic in the XI with Apostolos Stamatelopoulos sidelined – looked suspect at the back but the home side grew into the contest and looked more composed in possession.
They almost snatched an equaliser in the 32nd minute when Trent Buhagiar’s cross got caught in the wind, slowed in the air and hit the crossbar as City goalkeeper Jamie Young stood still.
Clayton Taylor then went close again four minutes later after his shot flashed just wide of goal as the Jets started to cause problems.
Socceroos star Mathew Leckie came off the bench to make his first A-Leagues appearance of the season with just over 30 minutes remaining, having returned from a knee injury in the Champions League midweek.
Within seconds of his introduction, City doubled their lead as Maclaren finished past Scott after Arslan’s assist. Newcastle proved to be their own undoing following some sloppy passing and the visiting side capitalised.
Kosta Grozos gave Young plenty to think about when he flashed a 64th-minute free-kick agonisingly wide of the post before Jets teammate Reno Piscopo was introduced for his appearance of the campaign.
There was a contentious moment 10 minutes from the end when Archie Goodwin broke free in a counter-attack and was wiped out by Young, who was miles out of his penalty area. The referee only brandished a yellow card as Newcastle players protested for a red. Even after a VAR review, the official stuck with his original decision – a caution.
The Talking Point
Much was made about Melbourne City’s form and travel heading into Sunday’s match.
Prior to the Round 6 game, City were winless in their last seven A-League Men games outside Victoria (D3 L4) and had lost their last three such fixtures.
Aurelio Vidmar’s side also had to navigate a challenging schedule, which saw the 2022-23 Grand Finalists travel to New Zealand for the Round 5 match against the Phoenix in Auckland before flying to Japan via Brisbane for the midweek AFC Champions League fixture.
It ended with another away trip, this time a match away to the Jets in Newcastle on Sunday. But, City got back to winning ways on the road.
After the game, City star Tolgay Arslan – who provided an assist in the win – revealed some honest discussions were had within the team to help get out of a rut.
“It was an important win. It was a win we won as a team. The last weeks I think that was missing and we have to grow up as a team,” the former Udinese midfielder told Paramount+. “We have to work for each other.
“To be honest, we had a lot of meetings and everybody was honest. In Japan, we had tough nights but we said the truth to each other.
“I think today, we played as a team and everyone helped each other.
“Of course we had heavy legs but congrats to the team and coaching staff. We had a good week.”
After the game, his coach Vidmar also heaped praise on Arslan and issued a warning to the rest of the competition.
Asked about the former Germany youth international, he told Paramount+: “He is a special player. You can just see the class he has.
“He has a lot of experience. To be honest he’s been struggling with a foot complaint since I’ve been here. Slowly getting better. He hasn’t done a big block of training either.
“We’ve been putting band-aids on him, so he is not even close to the ceiling. That’s probably a frightening proposition for the opposition.”
Step forward the man of the moment, Arslan.
He did not score but he provided the assist for Maclaren to put the result beyond doubt in the second half, having almost teed up the Socceroos forward in the opening period.
Arslan was a class above in a game where City were relatively in control. There were flashes of his undeniable quality as the visitors picked up a confidence-boosting win.
What it means
The Jets suffered their second straight loss and third of the season as the team’s winless run against City continued.
City are undefeated in their last five games against Newcastle in the league (W4 D1) and have won each of their last three meetings at McDonald Jones Stadium in the competition by a combined score of 8-3.