Saturday takeaway: Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory
The lid remains on
The record against Newcastle away continued to be a bugbear. While Victory has shown impressive attack and depth, there is still one piece missing and that is a good record on the road throughout the season. It does not get any easier from here with a trip to an impressive Sydney FC outfit this week – and missing several first-teamers to boot.
Victory struggled to overcome the Jets’ packed midfield for the most part, especially over the first half, and came into the match only after going a goal down. It was a slow start from the boys in blue who almost let the match slip away from them, only to be saved by a couple of mercurial players.
FBK, Gui create something from nothing
Victory’s first goal came from almost nothing. Gui Finkler thumped a ball in from the left flank and Fahid Ben Khalfallah knocked it home to get his new side back into the match. Ben Khalfallah has been a revelation, not only having a solid technique but also a willingness to track back defensively.
The French-Tunisian also set up Besart Berisha for the second goal, picking a hole left by the home defence which allowed Berisha to beat Taylor Regan and finish past Mark Birighitti.
Archie Thompson starts on the bench
Archie Thompson is now at the stage of his career where he does not have to start every game, and this may prove to prolong his career. Such is Victory’s depth and his significance to the club, the A-League legend was kept on the bench, possibly as an attempt to have him fresh for this weekend’s clash with Sydney.
Perhaps Thompson should have came on earlier, replacing a centre-back to push Mark Milligan back and leave Valeri as the only holding midfielder with Thompson positioned centrally. But this was ruled out when Rashid Mahazi replaced Adrian Leijer and Berisha treated with caution, withdrawn in the 70th minute.
I was reticent to mention this so far, wanting to give the benefit of the doubt and time, but now it’s a common theme emerging in all of Victory’s games so far. Nathan Coe is a great shot-stopper but is found wanting when it comes to controlling an area and on set-pieces. The match offered another illustration of just that, as Coe and Milligan were caught ball-watching which allowed space for Kew Jaliens to turn a shot home, which almost cost Victory.
A penalty in the first half was apparently given for holding by Ben Khalfallah on Scott Neville, replays showed there was nothing that did not happen in any other corner, so it was hard to understand Strebre Delovski’s decision. It now begs the question, as Muscat raised post-game, whether that is now the standard and if so, whether it will be a penalty-thon from here onward.
The problematic Hunter Stadium pitch was re-laid for the upcoming Asian Cup, and it has created another problem. Several players looked to have issues with sudden movement, particularly Milligan, as he clutched his knee following a turn. And just to prove common sense does not always prevail…there will be a motorcross event held at Hunter in March.
Stubbins’ set-up of his side was simple and, for the most part, effective. Joel Griffiths and Dave Carney put in honest and battling performances on the wing as they looked to feed off Edson Montano and his ability to hold up the ball. Zenon Caravella, Allan Walsh and Ben Kantarovski hustled in midfield but did not offer much going forward or supply enough attacking ball for the forwards.
Close enough, but not enough
This is the common theme emerging for Newcastle so far this season. They led in Perth, Melbourne and should have got something out of their opening fixture with Central Coast. Fans would have seen an honest side that is missing some key players and one that needs to be more attacking in its approach.
It did not help the Jets having to play their opening month of fixtures on the road, but at this point, they look like they will be trying to stave off a wooden spoon finish.
Killer instinct needed
Griffiths is seemingly wasted on a wing, while Jeronimo Neumann can’t quite get regular starts at his new club and Montano needs a strike partner – all this points to the Jets needing a new formation. What’s lacking also is a killer instinct and someone to score regularly. Perhaps Neumann or Griffiths starting behind Montano?
Marcos Flores was subbed on in the 81st minutes but should have been introduced earlier. The playmaker certainly could have put a tiring Victory on alert. Despite slowing down, Flores still has the ability to trouble defences. Stubbins spoke of cultivating a ‘winning mentality’, that move would’ve been a positive start.