When he arrived in in a hastily arranged loan deal as Bruno Fornaroli’s injury replacement, Melbourne City striker Ross McCormack divided opinion almost immediately.
But such has been the Scotsman’s goalscoring record that City are now desperately trying to extend his loan beyond its late January expiry date.
McCormack has now netted 13 times for City, and has scored two-thirds of the club’s 19 A-League goals this season.
He became the fastest man to score 13 goals in league history with his strike against Central Coast on Sunday, chalking up his total in just 15 games.
Discussions are taking place between his agent and parent club, Aston Villa, to keep him in the A-League at least until the end of this season.
“There have been discussions. Ross has done really well here and we would like to see him stay, and we are seeing if that can be made to happen,” a City insider said on Monday. “There are a lot of things to be tied up, so we will have to see what happens.”
McCormack said he was enjoying his time at City.
“It’s been a great experience for me. It’s a pleasure to be able to score goals regularly and to secure a record – but I’m more focused on the team playing well and getting results.
“It’s a great club, good players and professional environment. My focus is to keep working hard for my teammates.”
City were happy to let Argentine midfielder Marcelo Carrusca leave last week because it needed someone to go to create space on the roster for McCormack when Fornaroli returns.
The fact that Carrusca was a visa player was another bonus, as the club now has the visa spot it needs to keep McCormack at Bundoora even when Fornaroli is back on the pitch, which, the club hopes, will be next month.
Fornaroli, City’s top scorer in recent seasons, has recovered from his knee reconstruction and is expected to start taking part in team ballwork sessions this week at training.
The prospect of the Uruguayan linking up with McCormack is not surprisingly fanning excitement and expectation at City’s Bundoora training base as the club looks to seal a top-three finish, which would give it the chance to qualify for the Asian Champions League for the first time.
There was no doubt about McCormack’s ability. He had scored 91 goals in 233 appearances for Fulham and Leeds, so he had proved his prowess in one of the most demanding leagues in the world, England’s Championship.
But his time at Villa had been turbulent, and he had fallen out with manager Steve Bruce.
McCormack, according to the doubters, had an attitude problem, was unlikely to be committed to the A-League, and was thought to be carrying too much weight.
But the striker proved his worth again in City’s battling 2-2 draw with Central Coast at the weekend when they played for more than an hour with 10 men.
He has, in a few short months, done plenty to prove the doubters had perhaps jumped to conclusions too soon.
The Scot even confounded medical expectations: before Christmas he limped off the field with an injury that had Joyce and club officials fearing he would be out for the rest of the season with a knee reconstruction.
He was playing shortly after, and still banging in the goals from trademark free kicks and penalties, emphasising his value.
The early knock on McCormack was that he didn’t score enough goals from open play, that his contribution was limited to spectacular strikes from long-range free kicks.
But a goal from a free kick is worth as much as a goal involving a slaloming run past several defenders.
And in recent games McCormack has started to get more involved and score from open play, where his anticipation, close control and ability to read the game and find space has seen him pop up with typical poacher’s goals.
Joyce was delighted with the mentality shown by his depleted team to come back from behind twice against the Mariners, and with the way McCormack took his goal.
“Unfortunately that’s the fourth time now we have been down to 10 men, but every single time we have driven the game and showed unbelievable levels of fitness. I thought we were the stronger team and were the team looking the most likely to win.
“I think we had a bit more urgency and move the ball a bit shaper with 10 men, really. I thought Ross’ chance was a good chance, was a good play, and I thought we had several other good opportunities to score goals in the first half.”