Melbourne City were committed, competitive and disciplined but in the end came up short on their trip to Western Australia, going down 1-0 to league leaders Perth Glory at nib Stadium.
A Chris Ikonomidis goal just before the interval proved the difference, although the City camp felt Glory striker Andy Keogh might have been in an offside position during build-up to the move that led to the goal.
The win keeps Tony Popovic's Glory on top of the table, two points clear of Melbourne Victory who were 2-0 winners over Adelaide earlier in the evening.
City remains in the top six, but needs to find a way to score goals without a recognised central striker.
City was without not just out of favour frontman Bruno Fornaroli – left out of the squad for the third successive game – but was also missing Belgian marquee man Ritchie De Laet and French midfielder Florin Berengeur, both Europeans ruled out with injuries that stopped them travelling.
Coach Warren Joyce reacted by shuffling his pack and switching to a back three, bringing in former Socceroo centre half Curtis Good for his first start since his return to Melbourne after half a decade in Europe.
He also recalled young utility Nathaniel Atkinson to occupy one of the wing back roles as he looked for mobility in wide areas.
The tactic worked very well for most of the first half.
Perth looked sluggish and lacklustre – perhaps the privations of their long trip to Wellington a week earlier had taken a toll – but certainly City were good in the way they stifled any attacking approaches, maintained possession for themselves and looked to threaten Liam Reddy's goal.
Chris Ikonomidis has been a key player for the league leaders early in the season, but the one time Socceroo attacker got little change out of Harrison Delbridge. Andy Keogh and Glory's marquee player Diego Castro, making his first start for the new season, were equally muted.
Delbridge headed away when Glory threatened, an Ivan Franjic shot was easily held by City keeper Eugene Galekovic while at the other end the visitor's young winger Lachlan Wales was working hard and chasing everything down, keeping the Glory defence occupied in the process.
Atkinson had the chance to break the deadlock in the 21st minute when the ball fell to him from a corner, but he shot wildly over the top.
Wales and McGree looked to combine and bring in Scott Jamieson on the left and City looked composed as they probed for an opening.
Glory's Socceroo defender Matt Spiranovic, making his first appearance in a year after injury, endured a frustrating evening. The centre back lasted barely half an hour before injury forced him back to the dressing room.
The breakthrough, when it came, arrived at the other end moments after Delbridge had won the ball with an excellent sliding tackle from Ikonomidis.
Glory midfielder Brandon Wilson won the ball on the edge of the City penalty area and found Keogh. The Irishman's shot was blocked but the rebound fell to Ikonomidis who seized on the chance to drive it first time past Galekovic for his fifth goal of the season.
City felt that Keogh might have been in an offside position during the lead-up to his involvement. Galekovic kept his team in the game shortly after the restart when he twisted in mid air to palm away Castro's shot from inside the penalty area, while two minutes later Wilson tried his luck with a long range drive which went over the bar.
City lacked the cutting edge required as they tried to find a way back into the game as the match began to fizzle into a stalemate, Perth the happier of the teams as they held the advantage.
With 20 minutes remaining Joyce rolled the dice, with Dario Vidosic and Luke Brattan, in his 150th game, making way for Rostyn Griffiths and Anthony Caceres as City looked for more momentum from midfield.
But it was Glory who came closest soon after when midfielder Tomislav Mrcela hit the crossbar with Galekovic scrambling to get a touch. Castro was then denied from the rebound.
Good's return to action turned into a nightmare with 10 minutrs remaining when he picked up what looked like a very harsh second yellow card for a sliding challenge on Franjic, referee Peter Green then reaching for a red.
City's had a hard job when it had 11 men on the pitch, but now it just looked even more difficult – as it ultimately proved.
Michael Lynch, The Age's expert on soccer, has had extensive experience of high level journalism in the UK and Australia. Michael has covered the Socceroos through Asia, Europe and South America in their past three World Cup campaigns. He has also reported on Grands Prix and top class motor sport from Asia and Europe. He has won several national media awards for both sports and industry journalism.
Most Viewed in Sport