Melbourne Victory successfully negotiated the first major hurdle of their fledgling title challenge on Monday, seeing off Wellington Phoenix 2-0 despite missing a host of key men.
With Adrian Leijer and Daniel Georgievski suspended and Matthieu Delpierre and Besart Berisha injured, the visitors from New Zealand appeared in with a chance of registering their first away win over the Big V in the A-League.
But a combination of understudies and regulars in navy blue and white had other ideas, as goals from Guilherme Finkler and substitute Connor Pain put the team coached by former Victory boss Ernie Merrick to the sword, a familiar sight indeed for the packed crowd at AAMI Park.
What they said
Gui Finkler: “Happy for Connor to be on the scoresheet I think he deserved it and it’s good for him. We scored five goals in the first two games and every single goal was from a different player, we’ve got a very strong team.”
Nathan Burns: “We didn’t really keep the ball much in midfield, broke down a lot of our player. We didn’t have the flare tonight. We’ll put this one behind us, move on.”
1-0 (Finkler 24′)
The doggedness and good close control of Fahid Ben Khalfallah – in evidence through his 60 minutes on the field – earned Victory a free-kick on the left flank, which Finkler swung in juicily toward goal. Glen Moss didn’t come, no Phoenix player took responsibility for heading it away and hey presto, in it went.
2-0 (Pain 68′)
Kosta Barbarouses’ inch-perfect long ball found Archie Thompson, who slipped in Pain to finish coolly past Moss. A textbook counter-attack.
Nathan Burns, released one-on-one with Nathan Coe by Rolieny Bonevacia’s through ball, should have equalised for Wellington on the stroke of half-time, but instead fired straight at the goalkeeper. It was the Phoenix’s best chance of the game, spurned criminally.
Opta Data key stats
The 2-0 win was Victory’s first clean sheet in the A-League since beating Perth Glory by the same scoreline on December 13 last year, 22 games ago.
Ben Khalfallah’s dancing routine to win the free-kick and a surging run from Barbarouses, resulting in a shot fired wide of the near post, had a big home crowd on their feet in the first half.
After watching his well-drilled troops keep their shape and pressure Victory in possession for the first 23 minutes, it must have been galling for Merrick to see the Phoenix concede from a comic defensive mix up.
Carl Valeri was withdrawn moments before Victory’s second goal and headed straight down the tunnel to receive treatment for an as-yet unknown injury. Watch this space.
Back to the drawing board
It’s a fair few kilometres from Richmond to the beach, but you wouldn’t have known it on Monday night, when a flock of seagulls took up residence on the pitch in the second half for what we can only assume was a special Melbourne Cup eve party – for birds. Is it time the folks that run AAMI Park invest in a bird of prey? Or wires across that distinctive, futuristic roof?
The Final Word
Victory’s comfortable win keeps them joint top on 10 points alongside Sydney FC and Adelaide United ahead of a visit to the newly resurfaced Hunter Stadium to tackle the Newcastle Jets next Saturday.
Wellington have only four days to dust themselves off and prepare for a home match against the newly crowned AFC Champions League winners Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday.
Melbourne Victory: Coe, Galloway, Milligan (c), Broxham, Murnane, Valeri (Makarounas 67′), Mahazi, Barbarouses, Finkler (Brown 90′), Ben Khalfallah (Pain 67′), Thompson.
Wellington Phoenix: Moss, Fenton (Doyle 81′), Sigmund, Durante, Muscat, Riera, Rodriguez (Brockie 46′), Lia (Krishna 76′), Bonevacia, McGlinchey, Burns.
Scorers: Finkler (24′), Pain (68′)
Red cards: None
Yellow cards: Ben Khalfallah (16′), Muscat (32′), Riera (48′)
Conditions: 22°C, dry.
Attendance: 23,827 @ AAMI Park