Talking points: Victory show mark of Champions in Hyundai A-League game of the season
Kevin Muscat’s ear-to-ear grin and cheery post-match disposition gave Melbourne Victory’s thrilling 3-3 draw with Wellington Phoenix the ultimate seal of approval.
This was Hyundai A-League football at its best, a spectacle so absorbing in nature that Muscat’s half-time scowl was ultimately erased, and it might prove to be the game of the season when the dust finally settles in May.
Both Victory and Phoenix boast a strong argument to suggest they’ll be there in the final month of Spring, their Championship ambitions crystallized by 90 minutes of enthralling football in Victoria.
As it was told on Sunday, the aggressive, front-foot attacking approach shared by both teams is a strategy not without fault, and flaws were indeed exposed.
In a similar fashion to their 1-1 meeting in December, Victory were rattled by Wellington’s intrepid first-half bluster, only this time to wither under the pressure of a devastating three-goal spell in the opening period.
And, as it proved in that stalemate at the turn of the New Year, the New Zealanders were perhaps guilty of calling off the dogs in the second half and would succumb to a late Kosta Barbarouses equaliser that echoed memories of Ola Toivonen’s effort at the same end of AAMI Park in Round 10.
Muscat and Phoenix coach Mark Rudan will need to tweak such deficiencies as the season creeps into its second half, but their plot for silverware will undoubtedly be boldened by a catalogue of positives on display.
Wellington’s Roy Krishna would be close to the top of such a list, and has arguably never played better in a Phoenix shirt. Krishna bagged a double to bring his season tally to 11, and became the first player in competition history to score multiple goals in three consecutive Hyundai A-League matches.
The Fijian resembles a potential Johnny Warren medal-winner more and more by the week, but Terry Antonis can’t be too far behind him.
Capably assisted by James Troisi, Antonis helped spur Victory’s rousing two-goal comeback in the second half. That midfield duo are going to be of crucial importance to Muscat in the absence of Keisuke Honda, and demand close attention the next time Victory and Phoenix face off.
Moreover, Muscat's men will take immense credit from the way the striking manner of their second half comeback. A midweek loss to Adelaide United at the beginning of January and back-to-back defeats in the opening two rounds remain the season's only blemishes for the reigning Champions, who are growing in stature with each passing week.
Phoenix await for weekend’s big victors Sydney FC
Sydney FC were arguably the winners of the weekend and chief beneficiaries of the 180 minutes that took place at AAMI Park over Round 14.
With Melbourne City shackling Perth Glory 24 hours before Victory’s six-goal thriller with Wellington, the Sky Blues end the round having trimmed the deficit to the Western Australians by four points.
And while it wasn’t the vintage, swashbuckling football fans have been accustomed to seeing from Sydney over the years, the club’s 1-0 defeat of Newcastle Jets is another reminder that resolve will often trump enterprise.
Brandon O’Neill’s diligent patrol of the middle third embodied the efficiency in which Steve Corica’s men currently operate, however, an injury to Jacob Tratt will push their squad depth to its limits in the coming weeks.
Adam Le Fondre’s failure to find the net for the second match running may also warrant a flicker of concern for Corica, particularly ahead of Wednesday’s daunting trip to Wellington.
Le Fondre’s season tally of 11 has now been rivalled by Phoenix’s Krishna, and their midweek face off looms as much of a potential Golden Boot shoot-out as it does an acid test of the club’s season ambitions.
City stifle Perth but key question remains
Melbourne City again flexed their defensive muscles in holding leaders Perth Glory to a 0-0 stalemate on Saturday evening.
It won’t be a feat heralded from the heavens, but City’s doggedness earned an entirely credible point against a side which had previously not been held scoreless in 13 rounds of football.
Moreover, it’s the first scoreless draw Perth have suffered since November 2015, a mark of how effectively Warren Joyce’s side can extinguish attacking nous on their day.
But as he remarked post-match, a number-nine shaped hole remains for Joyce and City, whose shot at a genuine challenge for top honours must surely be scrutinised until a goal-scoring focal point arrives.
Cellar door creaking open for Mariners
If Sunday’s clash with Brisbane Roar was an early wooden-spoon play off, Central Coast Mariners may just have edged it.
Mike Mulvey’s men could only muster a 1-1 draw with their fellow Hyundai A-League strugglers in Gosford, but should emerge from the scrappy affair the more encouraged.
The continued excellence of Matt Millar headlines a growing surge of optimism for the Mariners, who on the back of four points in their last six are finally producing results earlier performances sometimes may have deserved.
It could point to a changing of the guard at the foot of the Hyundai A-League table, with Brisbane turning in another patchy, at times pedestrian display – one which ticks Roar’s winless run over into double figures.
Goodwin rises to the challenge again
Craig Goodwin might’ve dropped his head after missing out on selection for Australia’s AFC Asian Cup campaign.
But in a similar style to the also-overlooked James Troisi, the Adelaide winger has responded in the strongest possible manner.
Goodwin’s match-winning goal and assist salvo in the Reds’ 2-1 win away at Western Sydney Wanderers joins a stockpile of games he has inspired Adelaide to win this season.
He created seven chances on the night as Marco Kurz’s side preserved their remarkable away form.
Adelaide have only lost twice away from home this season – to Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory – a point of stoicism that could give them the edge in the finals mix up.