Melbourne Victory put in an excellent performance to take down Central Coast Mariners 4-1 in a game that the hosts dominated from start to finish, on a very humid night at AAMI Park.
Kevin Muscat decided to field the same starting 11 as the one that beat fierce rivals Melbourne City recently, while the Mariners made one change with Senegalese defender Jacques Faty making his way back to the starting line-up at the expense of Harry Ascroft.
The Yarraside outfit started well and controlled the game during the early stages, but were unable to break the deadlock. But with nearly a third of the game gone, a delightful pass from Fahid Ben Khalfallah saw Besart Berisha in front of goal. With a quick first touch, some in the crowd thought that he had surpassed Archie Thompson’s record number of 90 goals in the A-League. Even Thompson – present in the crowd – was celebrating as the ball went in. However, it was a deflection from Jake McGing that saw the ball end up in the back of the net and an own goal was rightfully written down on the score sheet.
Sensing that Muscat’s men may run them over, the visitors began to push forward a bit at this point. With the end of the first half on the horizon, Fabio Ferreira let loose a fantastic left-footed strike. But goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas made an excellent save to deny him a goal. It was 1-0 as the two sides went into half-time.
One of the most interesting things about this game was the care that was taken to ensure that the players were not overly dehydrated, since there were timely quick breaks for a drink of water throughout the game.
Victory managed to get a two-goal cushion with only minutes gone in the second-half, a free-kick from James Troisi resulted in defender James Donachie calmly heading the ball past the keeper.
Almost immediately, Paul Okon’s men grasped the urgency of the situation and pushed forward much like the way in which they reacted after the first goal had gone in. Former Blue Connor Pain let loose a blistering shot that would have been a fantastic goal, but for the heroics of a stupendous one-handed save by Thomas.
Less than 10 minutes later, the Mariners’ woes were set to continue as returning player Marco Rojas continued his stellar run of form by scoring two goals in two minutes. But Ben Khalfallah had a part to play in both those instances, making his contribution a very significant one through the course of the game.
After that point, Victory decided to pull back a bit and hang on to their dominating lead. But a slight lapse in concentration with a minute to go resulted in youngster Trent Buhagiar scoring a consolation goal for the away side.
As the referee brought the game to a halt, the Melbourne-based club announced their intent to seriously chase Sydney FC for the league title. Meanwhile, the Mariners fell to their fourth defeat on the trot and are one spot shy of hitting the rock bottom of the league.
Melbourne Victory will take on Newcastle Jets at the Simonds Stadium on January 2, 2017.