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For Victory, bizarre goal yields win

PRE-MATCH the big screen at Etihad Stadium blasted out the sort of theme music best described as cinematic as it heralded the arrival of Melbourne Victory.

Square-jawed, fixed of purpose, the players stared out from the screen mouthing the sort of platitudes about guts, commitment and determination that only scriptwriters could dream up.

It sounded like a trailer for a Bourne movie. Fans would have wondered, given the events of the last two weeks, whether they would be watching a team in search of an identity or a side that would deliver the  supremacy that, like the Bourne franchise, would have them coming back for more.

In the end they left happy enough, having seen their club score its first win of the season and pick up its first three points, although the decisive goal that brought this 2-1 win was, in its build-up, more a comedy of errors than a techno-style thriller.

Victory coach Ange Postecoglou paid tribute to the crowd — whom he described as magnificent — and to the mental strength of his players, who certainly seemed more focussed  last night than in their earlier games this season.

‘‘I reckon we were more solid tonight, but we needed to be after last week,’’ he said. ‘‘The boys were more compact and we didn’t get exposed. We were a lot more determined in everything we did, which was pleasing.’’


Postecoglou is no respecter of reputations nor a man who will die wondering, so he  was quick to wield the axe after last weekend’s disastrous 5-0 loss in Brisbane.

He made six changes: back in came the three internationals who missed that humiliation in Queensland — Archie Thompson, Mark Milligan and Marco Rojas — while Billy Celeski, goalkeeper Tando Velaphi and youthful centre-half Petar Franjic were given their first starts of the season.

The casualties were Spase Dilevski, youth teamer Andrew Nabbout, surprisingly elevated six days earlier, and import Jonathan Bru, who made little impression last week. The latter joined Jimmy Jeggo on the bench, where they were accompanied by goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas.

There was also a tactical rejig as Milligan was pushed into a holding midfield role to tighten things up, Bru having failed to do so against both Heart and Roar.

As is often the case, such a much-changed line-up began sharply as if they were intent on proving several points all at once. And indeed it looked as if things might finally be clicking into place as the hosts dominated their top-of-the-table opponents in the first 20 minutes.

There were some neat combinations in the opposition half as Victory pushed and probed to break down a Reds rearguard that had kept clean sheets in its first two games.

Marcos Flores, playing for the first time against the club with whom he won the Johnny Warren Medal  two seasons ago, linked up with Thompson and Finkler in the early exchanges and Victory’s width, with Thompson and Rojas ranging on the flanks, looked as though it might create some openings.

But when they failed to make a breakthrough Adelaide began to assert itself.

Velaphi, who looked confident on his return to first-team action, was forced to come off his line smartly to defy Adelaide’s Argentinian frontman Jeronimo Neumann as he chased down a through ball.

Velaphi again frustrated the South American with a good save from a first-time shot, but the Argentinian was at fault in the shadows of half-time when, played through one on one, he really should have opened the scoring when he shot wide with just the keeper to beat.

The Reds got their noses in front shortly after the interval although it was through a stroke of good fortune when Celeski inexplicably used his arm to control the ball in the area. Jeronimo had missed a penalty against West Sydney a week earlier, so Dario Vidosic took responsibility this time and dispatched the gift with ease.

This is so often the sort of situation that Adelaide defends well,  but on this occasion Victory bounced back almost immediately. Gui Finkler’s free kick from the right was met by Milligan, who powered a header past Eugene Galekovic to level the score.

Thompson, like Milligan, showing few signs of jetlag following their flight back from the Middle East after their midweek World Cup exertions, had a perfect opportunity to put his side in front in a match for the first time all season when he ran on to Flores through ball.

The flag stayed down and the striker, the Socceroos’ hero against Iraq, fluffed his golden chance by firing wide with just Galekovic to beat.

Relief for the frustrated Victory faithful was at hand, however, when Rojas struck the winner following a bizarre build-up. Thompson’s cross hit Adelaide defender Nigel Boogarde on the shoulder and bounced up and off the crossbar. Rojas headed the rebound but that too came back off the woodwork.

The New Zealand international did, however, have the presence of mind to control the bouncing ball and lash it home at the second time of asking.

It might not have come from the fluent passing approach that Postecoglou is trying to inculcate, but in the circumstances he, and everyone at Victory, would not have been bothered on a night when a win, in any shape, was sorely needed.