Victory takes the Glory
Victory's Marcos Flores (centre) looks to pass during the match against Perth Glory. Photo: Getty Images
IT'S not yet a juggernaut, but it is beginning to take on all the characteristics of a bandwagon.
Melbourne Victory posted its fourth win in five games on Friday night when a goal from the classy Kiwi international Marco Rojas was enough to see off Perth Glory 1-0 on Victory's first visit of the season to AAMI Park. The win consolidated Ange Postecoglou's side in third position on the ladder.
Central Coast and Adelaide, who meet in a top of the table clash on Saturday night, will be keeping a wary eye on Victory's progress, which has been dramatic in recent weeks.
The loss continues Glory's poor run - it hasn't won in its past four starts - and ensures the West Australians will stay marooned in mid table when this round is completed.
If stylistic variation is the key ingredient for an absorbing contest, then these two sides could well be tailor-made for each other. Both teams were handicapped by international call-ups, with Victory missing Archie Thompson and Mark Milligan, Perth doing without Michael Thwaite and Scott Jamieson, as well as suspended skipper Jacob Burns.
The West Australians are an experienced side full of tough, hard-nosed campaigners who can also play a bit, even though they went into this game further handicapped by the loss close to kick-off of their most creative player, Liam Miller, who injured his back in the warm-up. Adrian Zahra, the former Melbourne Heart winger, was promoted into the starting line-up.
Victory is still a work in progress but with 10 points from a possible 12, Postecoglou's team took the field on Friday night with plenty of reasons to believe in itself and the passing game the coach is seeking to inculcate.
In Gui Finkler, Rojas and Marcos Flores they have the players with the touch and guile to open up defences and play their way through the most obdurate rearguard.
Glory's game is physical and full of hard running and hard work. With the league's sharpest predator, Shane Smeltz, leading Glory's attack, it set its stall out to create space down the flanks and get the ball into the box as often as possible.
In the opening 20 minutes it gave better than it got, hustling and pressing Victory to make it harder for the hosts to play out from the back. Smeltz and Billy Mehmet chased and harried, giving Billy Celeski and Jonathan Bru little time to begin attacks as they compressed the space. Perth also broke quickly, getting plenty of men into its opponents' penalty area whenever they streamed forward.
Nick Ward should have given Glory the lead against his old team, but his header went just wide after Nathan Coe failed to collect.
Victory took a little time to get into the groove, but when it did it began to assert itself with the impressive Rojas playing a key role out on the flanks.
He linked well with Andrew Nabbout, the teenage sensation who capped a remarkable month by signing a full-time professional contract with Victory on Friday afternoon, and came agonisingly close to opening the scoring with a chip that beat Danny Vukovic but fell just over the bar.
This was Victory's cue to take control, and Flores, dropping deep, looked to become the creative fulcrum with Finkler alongside and Rojas always dangerous. Flores, the club's marquee player, certainly hasn't yet hit the target as much as he did during his Johnny Warren medal-winning season with Adelaide. But even though he is not scoring he is looking to be a creator in a key role in Postecoglou's attacking structure. As he and Finkler play more together that combination will only improve.
Victory took the initiative after the interval and when they broke through after 58 minutes it was perhaps inevitable that Rojas would do the damage, notching his fifth goal of the season with a sweetly struck curling shot from the left that left Vukovic a frustrated spectator as the ball lifted and then dropped inside the keeper's far post.
The move began with Celeski, who fed Finkler for the Brazilian to slip the ball wide inside the penalty area for Rojas to take maximum advantage.