Western United suffered defeat to rivals Melbourne City in the opening round of the 2022/23 Isuzu UTE A-League Men season on Friday night.
An own goal opened the scoring before Jamie Maclaren added a second on the hour mark.
Youngster Nicolas Milanovic gave Western United a lifeline towards the end but couldn’t help the side rescue a point.
John Aloisi named 10 of the 11 starters from the Grand Final in his first line-up of the new season, with James Troisi coming in for his debut as the only change.
From the extended 20-man squad, Aleksandar Prijovic and Sebastian Pasquali were not selected for the final 18 which included would-be debutants Tongo Doumbia and Jacob Tratt on the bench.
Troisi nearly had a dream start to his debut with a big chance just 25 seconds into the match, but Tom Glover made a strong save low to his right to deny the No.14’s effort from Lachie Wales’ cutback.
The Champions dominated the early proceedings but City quickly got on top with Maclaren having a goal disallowed for a foul in the build-up before Glover made another crucial save from Leo Lacroix’s flicked header.
Patrick Kisnorbo’s side did eventually take the lead not long before half-time when Tomoki Imai cleared a Nabbout header off the line, but the ball fell back down in the goalmouth and was bundled over the line, with the last touch coming off Lacroix.
United tried to find more possession in the second half while City continued to push for a second goal, which they got in the 59th minute as Maclaren picked Lacroix’s pocket and clipped the ball over Jamie Young and into the net.
Milanovic gave United a glimour of hope in injury time when he struck purely on the half volley for his second senior goal, firing into the bottom right corner.
In the end it was City that came closest to adding another goal with Young forced into an excellent double save as United fell to an opening day defeat.
Key Player – Nicolas Milanovic
After hitting the net four times in pre-season and changing the game from the bench in United’s final friendly against Central Coast Mariners, Milanovic entered the fray with little over 10 minutes to play.
The 20-year-old immediately gave Aloisi’s men a different threat up front and was busy without the ball to try and make something happen.
Milanovic was on hand to show his natural finishing ability, taking one touch to cushion the ball on his chest and a second to hammer the ball in at Glover’s near post, giving the City goalkeeper no chance.
Aloisi was full of praise for the youngster after an impressive cameo.
“He gave us a presence in the box, he took the goal really well and he has been doing really well in pre-season. If he is called upon, hopefully he will be ready to do well,” he said.
Jamie Young picks up where he left off
Despite conceding twice, Young carried on from his fantastic 2021/22 season with another top performance in goal.
The No.1 made seven saves on the night including a strong early stop to deny Mathew Leckie and a pair of late blocks, first from the feet of Marco Tilio and second to turn Leckie’s follow-up around the post.
Last season’s golden glove winner with 10 clean sheets, Young will be pleased with his opening round performance and hope his form continues with more shutouts this season.
A pair of debutants
Although it was a largely familiar Western United side, Troisi and Doumbia began their journeys with the A-League Men Champions and will be eager to build upon their opening performances.
Troisi got through the entire 90 minutes in the No.10 position and showed glimpses of his potential in that creative role, almost getting himself on the scoresheet and sending in one particularly threatening ball to Dylan Wenzel-Halls.
Doumbia immediately settled into the midfield after coming on and put in an assertive half-hour performance, with his size and strength becoming a factor straight away.
Both players will go from strength to strength in a Western United shirt, with Tratt also waiting in the wings to make his first appearance.
Green and Black army shows up
Western United’s fans returned to AAMI Park in numbers for this season opener and contributed to an excellent atmosphere on the night.
After coming together in fine voice throughout the 2022 Finals Series, the Green and Black army brought the noise to kick off the new season.
The Western Service Crew and all of the Green and Black family will now look ahead to United’s first home match of the season against Sydney FC next Sunday, with $20 adult general admission tickets available.