All came through with flying colours as City ground out what most will not have expected, a 2-0 win against an Adelaide side that had impressed many after they pushed the high-flying Melbourne Victory the week before.
De Laet’s recurring fragility is a problem for Joyce. He returned to the fray on Sunday after missing the narrow loss in Perth the previous week but lasted only 20 minutes or so before succumbing again to injury.
Atkinson, who came into the side last season, was asked to move back to right back to replace De Laet while teenager Najjarine, who might only have expected a cameo role, came in to play 65 minutes in a wide midfield berth.
Joyce was delighted with their contribution.
”Preparing for the game was difficult. During this week, we’ve got three kids with the Australia under 23s all week, De Laet’s not really trained much. You lose an experienced player early in the game [De Laet] and you have to rejig. A kid [Najjarine] has come on and done extremely well.”
Wales, who joined City earlier this season ostensibly as cover in wide areas, is improving with every appearance, Joyce noted.
”He’s a good footballer. He wasn’t really a winger when he was younger, he played there because you play wherever you’re told too play if you’re trying to get a chance in the first team.
”He’s comfortable in central areas, he’s got a good brain, he’s a good athlete but he’s got a good touch as well, he can play, he’s not just a runner.”
De Laet must now be considered doubtful for the derby against Victory on Saturday.
That City managed to grab the points with an organised, structured display away from home at Hindmarsh Stadium only adds to their credit.
As Joyce pointed out afterwards, the young trio all worked hard, were trying to live the life of a professional, looked after themselves and were keen enough to come back to the training venue for extra work when their better-known peers had returned home for the night.
A Fornaroli-less City will always be less entertaining, less flamboyant and more predictable.
Their attacking virtues will be hard running, pace and directness where possible, with Wales – a willing workhorse but something more than just a blunt instrument – leading the line, with midfielders like Luke Brattan, Riley McGree and Dario Vidosic tasked with getting forward to provide an attacking threat.
But this win in Adelaide has, for all the furore over the omission of their South American hit man, given City two wins out of their last three games. They have scored five goals but they have had to be inventive about the way they got them.
Three came from midfielders – Brattan’s marvellous strike against Newcastle three weeks ago and his sealer on Sunday and McGree’s fierce opener in the win over the Jets.
Wales has chipped in with one, while Adelaide supplied the other courtesty of an own goal.
It’s not Melbourne Victory, where a plethora of players (Keisuke Honda, Kosta Barbarouses, Ola Toivonen, Terry Antonis, James Troisi et al) are capable of freely hitting the target.
But the City hierarchy, having now largely ridden out the storm, will take satisfaction from the fact that they are still hanging on to the coat tails of the league’s leaders as they approach this weekend’s Melbourne derby.
It’s not just the kids who have answered Joyce’s call this season.
Veteran goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic was expected to play second fiddle to new signing Mark Birighitti after the latter returned from Europe.
But the ex-Socceroo shot-stopper has knuckled down, lost weight and is keeping the younger man on the bench. He rewarded his coach’s faith with a string of fine saves late against Adelaide.
In Adelaide, City were able to include, for the first time this season, defensive utility Osama Malik and Scottish winger Michael O’Halloran after both had been ruled out with injury for the entire campaign so far.
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.