Analysis: Melbourne Derby comes of age

It’s official – Melbourne Victory versus Melbourne City finally worthy of the title ‘derby’ following Saturday night’s incredible clash at AAMI Park.

With two contenders for goal of the season, plenty of feistiness on the pitch and a pulsating atmosphere off it – this was a match that showcased all the best of the Hyundai A-League.

The Melbourne Derby has struggled to impress when compared to its counterpart in Sydney since the arrival of Western Sydney Wanderers, but after three brilliant contests this season, Victorians deserve to hold their heads high, particularly following Round 19’s 2-2 draw.

MATCH REPORT: Fornaroli, Finkler star in dazzling Melbourne Derby

City striker Bruno Fornaroli was again the star of the show, setting up and finishing off the hosts’ opening goal with a level of skill that the A-League has rarely seen.

The reigning champions had the better of the opening quarter of the match but it was City who struck first in the 22nd minute.

After a Victory set-piece, Fornaroli won a 50-50 battle in midfield with Leigh Broxham and then produced a rabona to release Anthony Caceres down the left.

Caceres squared the ball to Aaron Mooy, who then slipped a reverse pass through to Fornaroli and the Uruguayan delicately dinked his shot over the onrushing Danny Vukovic.

The roar that followed served to underline how far City have come as a club.

Bruno Fornaroli

While previous ‘home’ derbies for both Melbourne Heart and City have been taken over by Victory’s fans, the hosts more than held their own in the stands on Saturday.

The highlights didn’t stop there either, with Victory winger Fahid Ben Khalfallah equalising in the 28th minute with a brilliant chip of his own.

Kosta Barbarouses’ shot on the counterattack was smothered by Thomas Sorensen but with the Danish goalkeeper off his line, Ben Khalfallah expertly curled a 25-yard chip just under the crossbar.

Fornaroli would put City in front again just after the half-hour mark and after such a stunning first half; the second added a dose of ridiculousness.

First, Gui Finkler equalised with an attempted header from Oliver Bozanic’s scuffed shot that looked to come off the Brazilian’s shoulder, while Victory’s playmaker should have had a second goal in the 51st minute but was denied by the officials.

Gui Finkler

Finkler’s direct free-kick from the edge of the penalty area struck the crossbar and bounced just over the line but referee Chris Beath and his assistant didn’t see it.

Again the stadium exploded in noise as Victory fans booed the decision, while City supporters revelled in their rivals’ frustration.

It was sporting theatre at its finest.

The match had just about everything, with Anthony Caceres earning an almost obligatory red card when he tripped Matthieu Delpierre in midfield to earn his second yellow.

Since Heart joined the A-League in 2010-11, the club has been constantly cast in the role of Victory’s little brother.

As little brothers often do, Heart and City have regularly produced their best against Victory but the immense fan base and titles of the Big V have made them the clearly dominant force in Victoria’s capital.

What this derby proved is that City have finally made a genuine impact in Melbourne.

Both teams entered this match on 28 points, with few pundits able to split them.

Plus, on the terraces, the Melburnians went chant for chant with Victory’s main supporters group the Blue and White Brigade.

It may not have had the tribal atmosphere of the Sydney derby, which buys into decades of geographic and socioeconomic rivalries in the Harbour City, but this was clearly a game that meant more than just three points.

After City’s backs-to-the-wall 2-1 triumph in December and Victory’s last-gasp 3-2 win early in Round 2, this fixture has gone to the next level and should be ranked amongst the best sporting spectacles available in Melbourne if not Australia.