Melbourne City didn't miss forward Bruno Fornaroli in a 3-0 defeat of Newcastle, earned with world-class finishes from Riley McGree and Luke Brattan.
Fornaroli stand-in Lachlan Wales capped City's fine showing with his first professional goal and his team's third on Sunday night at AAMI Park, putting a week of tumult behind them.
City's performance and result vindicate coach Warren Joyce, who had been vilified by many after axing the fan favourite for failing to meet training standards.
With the Uruguayan watching on in the stands, City went to work and took the lead after just 78 seconds. Ex-Jet McGree -- whose last goal in Newcastle colours was the infamous scorpion kick to knock out City in last season's semifinal -- controlled Florin Berenguer's corner and belted home an unstoppable volley from close range.
The goal was met with muted celebrations from City's fans, protesting Fornaroli's absence, and McGree, who didn't over-egg his revelry after putting one past his old side. But there can no disputing the importance of the 20-year-old's strike, setting City on their way to victory.
After sustaining strong Jets pressure for much of the first half, Brattan increased their margin in injury time with the sweetest of volleys. The 28-year-old controlled Lachlan Jackson's clearance with his chest and unleashed a beautifully arced strike from outside the box that left Glen Moss no chance.
City didn't have it all their own way. Eugene Galekovic tipped Jason Hoffman's close-range effort wide with the score at 1-0, then blocked the former Heart utility's strike at the near post in the second half.
As the Jets challenge subsided, Wales struck by running onto Ritchie De Laet's through-ball and dinking over Moss at speed. On a perfect night for City, Joyce was even able to introduce defender Curtis Good late, retuning to the club after an injury-cruelled six-year European stint.
It remains to be seen whether Joyce and Fornaroli will reconcile but, on this evidence at least, their feud hasn't spilled onto the pitch.
"It was a good performance but I think the last three performances we've played better," Joyce said. "Goals change games ... we were looking for an early goal and we got a very high quality finish."
Merrick bemoaned the lack of fight from his side after McGree's early strike.
"Sometimes that spurs the team into lifting but it didn't. It was a very insipid Newcastle performance," he said. "Melbourne City were up for it, played well, knocked the ball around well and we couldn't get into the game."