Australia U-23's midfielder Connor Metcalfe struck the first goal of the 2020/21 A-League season as ten-man Melbourne City put their Grand Final sorrow behind them with a hard-fought 1-0 win against Brisbane Roar.
Metcalfe netted his third career A-League goal in the 52nd minute after a crisp exchange with Jamie Maclaren, before Adrian Luna’s 69th-minute red card left City hanging on to claim three points in head coach Patrick Kisnorbo’s first game in charge after replacing the outgoing Erick Mombaerts.
City showed early signs of a Grand Final hangover as Roar created the best moments of the first 45 minutes with Jay O’Shea pulling the strings, Japanese debutant Riku Dazanki causing problems and Dylan Wenzel-Halls spurning a superb chance when clean through on goal, as keeper Tom Glover saved with his feet.
Although the strong wind and humidity at a jam-packed Dolphin Stadium was clearly taking its toll, Brisbane struggled to shake their reputation of showing industry without cutting edge, a factor that saw them record the second lowest A-League goal tally last season despite finishing fourth in the ladder.
Warren Moon’s backline had kept hitman Maclaren and his new strike partner Andrew Nabbout – who was forced off on the hour with a suspected hamstring injury – relatively quiet, but one moment of quality between the Golden Boot holder and 21-year-old Metcalfe proved decisive in City’s first match since their extra-time loss to Sydney FC in the big dance 121 days ago.
Returning from a year-long hiatus pursing a rap career in Los Angeles, Roar’s Joey Champness and substitute Scott McDonald saw opportunities for an equaliser go begging but, despite Luna’s second yellow for clipping Rahmat Akbari, City kept the door locked as Brisbane begin life in their new home for the 2020/21 season with a frustrating defeat.
City began their quest for maiden A-League silverware on the front foot with Adrian Luna slashing a half-volley harmlessly over the target in the second minute and Roar gloveman Jamie Young had to be alert to to block debutant Andrew Nabbout’s eighth-minute drive with his out-stretched foot.
Joey Champness’ near-post header from Jay O’Shea’s corner looped over City keeper Tom Glover’s crossbar as the hosts grew into the game and Dylan Wenzel-Halls saw his close-range strike skim off Glover’s foot and around the post after being sent clean through by Riku Danzaki’s measured ball.
The lively Wenzel-Hall again forced space to shoot inside the box as the opening half ticked past the midway point. Then City’s danger man Jamie Maclaren came to life, heading a half-chance over and playing a deft reverse pass to send Connor Metcalfe through on goal, which forced Young into a sprawling save to keep the Queenslanders level on the half-hour mark.
Roar left-back Jack Hingert burst into the box and saw a strike deflected wide as Brisbane finished the opening half on top but Warren Moon’s side suffered a set-back seven minutes after the restart when Metcalfe exchanged passes with Maclaren and this time added a crisp finish to net the first A-League goal of the 2020/21 season.
The goal gave Brisbane some added urgency as Champness pulled a close-range chance across the face of goal on 62 minutes and Macauley Gillesphey’s towering header from Corey Brown’s free-kick skimmed the top of Glover’s crossbar three minutes later, before Luna’s late 69th-minute challenge on Akbari resulted in the Uruguayan receiving his marching orders.
That moment increased the impetus for the home side and a moment of madness by Glover, rushing outside his area and mistiming the ball, almost allowed Danzaki to net a dramatic 85th-minute equaliser. Substitute Scott McDonald dragged a stoppage-time shot across the face of goal as Roar's time ran out and City held on to take three points back to Victoria.