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May 23, 2022   |  8:35AM AET

The ‘presence’ of Mat Leckie: The image that proves he was, literally, everywhere

The ‘presence’ of Mat Leckie: The image that proves he was, literally, everywhere

At one point in extra-time, Mathew Leckie picked the ball up in space down the left hand side, roaming freely, and launched a rasping, parabola of a pass almost the full width of the pitch out to Stefan Colakovski down the right flank. 

It was a pass you attempt when your confidence is high. Leckie wasn’t just confident, he was driven; everywhere, and his quality was coming to the fore. 

That was an elite snapshot of an individual in form, in a moment that sums up the best of Melbourne City. 

A Curtis Good defensive interception; a Marco Tilio silky run to launch a counter-attack; Leckie, flexing, surging forward, with options to play. This time, it was Colakovski out wide. Previously, it had been Andrew Nabbout, who set up the leveller for Tilio, a substitute.

Patrick Kisnorbo had to turn to the bench for options, because for long periods against a gallant Adelaide United, they were not at their best, and found themselves a goal down thanks to Zac Clough’s dream goal. The Reds had more ball. Tom Glover was called into serious action early thanks to a George Blackwood header. Kusini Yengi was a wriggly handful. Kisnorbo conceded there are areas “we need to improve”.  

But City, as we know, have game breaking options. Adelaide United, as Carl Veart rued, were starting to run “out of petrol”. 

Something had to give, and Leckie was a big part of it, altering the outcome of what had been a fairly cagey contest. 

Kisnorbo moved Leckie from out wide, into a free wheeling role centrally. Tilio came on out wide. 

The City boss explained: “We know he can play inside as well, so it was a scenario where I wanted to do it and we brought Marco on…an option that we know he can play.” 

This image is testament to the cliche that the Socceroos veteran was everywhere. 

Tactically, it worked. But you could sense, on an individual level, Leckie wasn’t going to countenance a defeat. When City needed a lift, he took it on his broad shoulders to make things happen. It earned him a first-half yellow for lunging into a challenge; but the determination was clear.

“From the beginning, (he has been) on the front foot, causing problems,” Network 10 pundit Andy Harper mused in co-commentary.

“When he moved into a central areas, so so positive.” 

He added, late in the contest: “Masterful.”

Jamie Maclaren, who scored the winning goal two minutes into extra-time, said: “The quality he brings; you even see he is playing closer, more alongside me, as a No.10, when Flo (Florin Berenguer) came off in the second-half and he was unreal.” 

Marco Tilio of Melbourne City celebrates a goal.

It wasn’t always the case this season, however. It took time for City’s star off-season signing, the returning Australian international, to re-adjust to life back in the Isuzu UTE A-League, coupled with the expectations on Melbourne City’s “Socceroos Front Three.” He didn’t open his scoring account until February.

Quality won out, however, and in a Grand Final against Western United, could prove decisive. 

“When you guys were criticising I didn’t really care,” Kisnorbo said.

“It takes time, and he still has a long time to go. He has progressed, and I am happy for him.” 

Maclaren added: “It was going to take Lecks some time to adjust; it took me some time, even though I have played the majority of my football (here), when I was coming back from Hibs.” 

He continued: “He has a presence about him. He makes great runs. He’s a threat. He can play all across the front third.

“You saw Marco coming on as a winger when he has been playing as a No.10 for the last six weeks – he had such an impact, scored the equaliser. All across the pitch we’re well covered and going forward we’ve got guys who can spark something with the X-factor.”  

Marco Tilio.

A delighted Nabbout, who set up the equaliser for Tilio, added: “You don’t understand how many hours I’ve spend practicing that exact ball with Jamie, with Leckie, with Tilio. 

“The one thing I told Tils at half-time was he is going to come on and win us the game. He equalised… I’m proud of him.”

As City launched their match winning surge, Veart “could sense” that three games in seven days was taking its toll, and as much as the focus is on the Premiers’ attack, their spine, with Nuno Reis, Good, and second-half substitute Rostyn Griffiths, is formidable.

“It was just the quality of City in the end,” Veart lamented. 

And, if you ask Kisnorbo, character, too.

The City boss bristled mid-week when asked about the fact his side hadn’t beaten a top four side all season.

Finally – and from 1-0 down – they did.

“I don’t think it was just Marco (who made an impact off the bench, 1-0 down),” Kisnorbo said. 

“Griff made a great impact on the game, same as Cola; the guys who came on as subs and I thought they changed the game. Great to see.” 

Against a stubborn Western United, every one of them will come into the equation in Saturday night’s Grand Final.

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