SOCCEROOS marksman Jamie Maclaren has once again proved Western United’s bogeyman, scoring a late winner to help Melbourne City beat their A-League neighbours 2-1 at AAMI Park on Saturday evening.
Maclaren scored his eighth goal in five games against United to ensure City maintained a perfect winning record in their derby match-up.
Ivan Vujica put United ahead with his first A-League goal in the 22nd minute, with Craig Noone levelling the scores 10 minutes later before Maclaren settled the tie in the 84th.
City looked aggressive early but it was United who drew first blood when Spaniard Victor Sanchez curled a cross towards the back post where Vujica, in his first United start, leapt between two defenders to head home.
An emotional Vujica, who spent almost all of his first season at United sidelined with a pelvic injury, made a beeline for coach Mark Rudan – embracing his mentor in celebration.
Rudan started new recruit Iker Guarrotxena, while his City counterpart Patrick Kisnorbo handed first games to Naoki Tsubaki and Taras Gomulka, with Aiden O’Neill unavailable due to a back injury.
Guarrotxena was lively throughout and almost doubled United’s lead in the 30th minute when he whipped a shot just wide.
Two minutes later City equalised when Noone brushed off Sanchez, before cutting inside and curling a shot past the diving Filip Kurto.
City lost defender Rostyn Griffiths to injury in the 38th minute, with Kisnorbo handing a debut to Kerrin Stokes.
The coach hailed the impact of Stokes and fellow young substitutes Stefan Colakovski and Marco Tilio.
“The fact that we have a lot of young players that came on in our team, it showed a lot of character,” Kisnorbo said.
“Because probably before maybe last week or today, they may have only played NPL.
“But the fact that they stepped up in an A-League game under difficult circumstances, in a derby game, the credit’s all to them.”
The home side ramped up the pressure in the second half but as the minutes ticked by an outstanding goalkeeping performance from Kurto seemed destined to keep City at bay.
The United goalkeeper made a sublime one-handed stop in the 82nd minute to deny Connor Metcalfe’s rocket, then blocked efforts from Maclaren and Tilio.
But the Western United number 1’s efforts would prove futile when City midfielder Adrian Luna slipped a tremendous, long-ball through for Colakovski, who had the awareness to cut back for Maclaren.
The Socceroo made no mistake with the finish to clinch all three points for City, leaving Rudan to lament not bringing on fresh legs earlier in the second half.
“We started to tire. I blame myself, I should have been a bit more proactive,” Rudan said.
“My gut told me to make some changes at that time, I didn’t do it and got punished for it.”
The loss puts United’s season record at zero and two.
Two days before the game Western United bolstered their attack with the addition of winger Iker Guarrotxena, inking the Spanish import until the end of the season.
“The first moment I had the opportunity to come here, I didn’t have any doubt,” he said.
“I was clear that I wanted to come here. I did all that I can to come here because I know this was an opportunity for me to grow as a player, to improve.
“To have a chance to play in the Australian league for a foreign player is not easy, so that’s why I’m so happy.”
The 28-year-old had been training with United, who hadn’t played since their season-opener on 28 December, but had to wait on his international transfer clearance before he could be unveiled.
Guarrotxena, who describes himself as “dynamic”, was adamant he was fit to play against City with coach Mark Rudan confirming the attacker would be in the squad.
United started looking for an attacker amid doubt over Max Burgess’ future at the club and settled on Guarrotxena though Burgess has since returned to Victoria and will be back training next week.
“[Guarrotxena is a] great age, very mobile, very good – he’s a good dribbler, he’s a great athlete too,” Rudan said.
“He makes runs, forward runs, he can score and he plays in various positions.
“He can play out in the wing, he can play internally inside, he can roll into number 10 as well.
“He was fit, and that’s the other thing, he was actually playing at the time.”
Originally from Bilbao, Guarrotxena came through Athletic Bilbao’s youth ranks and played for their Segunda B team before stints at Tenerife, Mirandes and Cultural Leonesa.
More recently, he played for Polish club Pogon Szczecin and then Greek outfit Volos.
Guarrotxena leaned on former City and current Macarthur winger Markel Susaeta and Bulls midfielder Benat Etxebarria, both fellow Basque products, when making his decision to move to Australia.
“I know a lot because some Spanish players have played here before,” he said.
“Now they have Susaeta and Benat at Macarthur – I played with them in Athletic Bilbao. This a good opportunity for me and I want to improve.”
– BY ANNA HARRINGTON/AAP