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Melbourne City boss Patrick Kisnorbo has hailed his side's character and resilience after they pushed ever closer towards a hard-earned place in the Asian Champions League knock-out stages.
Kisnorbo watched his Australian champions eke out a "tough and tense" 0-0 draw against home side BG Pathum United in their penultimate group match in Thailand on Wednesday and reckoned their performance stamped them as a "special bunch".
The draw was not enough for City to take control of their pool, with Pathum still favourites to gain the automatic qualifying spot guaranteed to the group winners, as they lead by two points going into the last round of matches on Saturday.
But City, still unbeaten in the group stages, look well set to win their last game against Filipino side United City, who have so far lost all five matches - and victory would almost certainly be enough to guarantee their spot as one of the three best group runners-up.
It left Kisnorbo saluting his side's efforts after what has been a difficult campaign.
"We've got to look at the whole picture. We've got a team that lost two starting midfielders, had players and staff who've had COVID, we've come to a country where conditions are tough, we've had players injured, and we've drawn with the home team twice," he said.
"I think we had better chances than Pathum today. They had some set pieces at the end, but in terms of clear chances, we had better ones - especially on the counter-attack."
That was a debatable verdict - Pathum had 17 attempts on goal to City's six - but what wasn't up for question was City's appetite for the fray.
"What this group has done, it just shows what type of players we have. They try to play as hard as they can and the way they've had to deal with suspensions and injuries, it shows what type of players we have. We didn't back down and this group of players are a special bunch."
Andrew Nabbout, who'd scored a beauty in the first match against Pathum, had looked the man most likely to cause damage down the right flank as the Thais had nine attempts on goal to City's two in the first half.
After the break, captain Scott Jamieson rampaged through and fired a fine low shot that Pathum's goalie Kittipong Phuthawchueak just managed to claw round the post, and man of the match Marco Tilio had one thundering run towards goal checked by a brilliant last-gasp tackle.
Melbourne also had perhaps the best late chance to snatch the win when the predatory Socceroo Jamie Maclaren latched on to Tilio's 80th minute skilful nod through and had to be thwarted by a fine stop from Kittipong.
In the day's other group match, Jeonnam Dragons beat United City 2-0 to move on to seven points in the group and the K League side could yet deliver a win over Pathum that might gift the group win to Melbourne.