Western United lacked the discipline and polish that it displayed in its first two A-League games and paid a heavy price with a 2-1 loss to a slicker 10-man Melbourne City in the derby at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong on Sunday night.
United trailed by a goal at the break after a disappointing first half, but the Mark Rudan-coached side found a way back into the contest in the 66th minute when prolific striker Besart Berisha converted the penalty he drew following a harsh challenge from City defender Harrison Delbridge, who saw yellow for a second time and was given his marching orders.
If United got the impression that it would be a little more comfortable playing with the man advantage, it proved a false dawn as Melbourne City found a spectacular winner through in-form striker Jamie Maclaren in the 85th minute.
Maclaren, who finished with a double, was the difference between the two sides.
Western United centre-back Andrew Durante described the loss as frustrating after his side had worked hard to get back into the contest and created the better chances in the second half.
“It’s extremely disappointing we didn’t leave the home ground with at least a point,” Durante said.
“I thought we had enough chances to at least finish the game a draw, but Maclaren is in some serious form at the moment and is scoring from all types of angles.”
Not unlike the week before against Perth Glory, Western United came out of the blocks a little bit flat.
Perhaps it had more to do with Melbourne City’s attacking intent on this occasion, but, either way, it was not what the 7042 spectators largely decked out in the green and black of United wanted to see.
There were fleeting moments of excitement for United, in particular two chances that fell the way of Berisha.
Attacking midfielder Alessandro Diamanti, who had quality touches all game for United, played in a nice through ball to Berisha in the 16th minute, but City defender Scott Galloway was quicker to react.
Three minutes later, Diamanti whipped in a corner and Berisha’s powerfully struck header could only find the awaiting arms of City goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis.
Aside from a chance just before half-time, when Diamanti put a free kick into the box and Scott McDonald’s header was parried away by Bouzanis, there was little else to get the United fans excited about.
Melbourne City, though, played some breathtaking football and had a succession of chances, drawing a number of spectacular saves from Western United goalkeeper Filip Kurto.
Despite conceding two goals, Kurto, the A-League’s goalkeeper of the year last season, was one of the better players on the ground for United.
The second half was more positive for Western United.
United started to win their share of possession in the midfield and caused the City defence a few headaches with some dangerous balls into the front third.
When Berisha netted from the penalty spot, it looked as though Western United had done enough to weather the storm and could be on their way to victory.
However, Maclaren’s spectacular goal meant all three points were heading to Melbourne City.
Josh Brillante played a long hopeful ball and Maclaren had the speed to leave the United defence in his wake and power a shot to the right of Kurto that nestled into the far post.
Western United cannot afford to dwell on the result with long-time A-League powerhouse Melbourne Victory on the horizon in a derby at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night. Both teams sit mid-table with four points each.