Victory draw not too fine a point
Mark Milligan’s brace cancelled out the opener from Adam Taggart and an own goal from Adrian Leijer to have the scores locked at 2-2 at the final whistle.
The signs weren’t great for the Victory almost immediately. From the first whistle they struggled to find any rhythm. Had it been the same line-up that faced Yokohama F Marinos earlier in the week it may have been understandable, but this was not. Mass changes were made to the team, among them the inclusion of Gui Finkler, Tom Rogic, Milligan and Adama Traore. Nathan Coe also returned between the sticks in place of Lawrence Thomas who had failed to cement his spot.
Victory’s forward half looked lethargic and allowed the Jets to build pressure from their defence. Gaping holes opened up in midfield as a result of Victory's central players failing to track back. Newcastle attacked at will, particularly through David Carney, aiming cross after cross to expose centre-back Leigh Broxham’s lack of height. It worked, as far too much pressure was placed on the full-backs.
Jets coach Clayton Zane sent out an attacking side, playing Adam Taggart as an advancing midfielder just behind Emile Heskey. This exposed the Victory forwards’ unwillingness to track back and Taggart benefited by scoring the opening goal. A recurring theme was a failure to keep the ball, turning it over to the home side and inviting more pressure on the defence.
The Victory defence has been the scapegoat this season, at times justifiably so, on other occasions, not so much. The second goal conceded was near comical, as Josh Brillante fired a shot that rebounded off the post onto the back of Adrian Leijer’s legs and then in for a goal. Leijer did not do much wrong, getting back on the line to defend, only for luck to go against him.
There was no luck in the creation of the goal though, as the Jets were dominating and deserved the lead.
Victory have shown a scratchy streak as of late, a willingness to fight when needed. Milligan - often the only player left standing between forward and back - embodied that, as well as getting on the scoresheet, twice equalising, first through a header and then through a late penalty.
The captain’s first strike came from a set-piece, leaping onto Leijer’s header across the goal to nod it home.
Victory improved marginally over the second half, both teams settled the pace down and it often led to a scrap on a poor surface.
James Troisi’s forced early inclusion into the ‘false nine’ position proved to be a boon for Melbourne, who looked better for it. Victory coach Kevin Muscat then tried to change it up by removing James Jeggo for Andrew Nabbout with just over 20 minutes remaining, but that had little impact.
Zane responded over the second half by removing Heskey for James Virgili and Joel Griffiths for Nick Ward midway through. The former Socceroo opted for consolidation but may have been better off by bringing on Craig Goodwin to further attack and try to secure a third goal.
Victory’s moment came just two minutes before stoppage time, as Milligan converted a penalty earned after a flailing leg from Josh Mitchell connected and felled Archie Thompson.
Some proposed that this performance was the fault of Victory’s style, but that absolves the players to some extent. The players never really looked at their best and, no matter what formation Muscat sent out, it would not have changed much.
Many were quick to find scapegoats and, in this case, it was Tom Rogic, the great white hope of Australian football. He appeared to have little confidence in his body, a worrying sign. It was hard to ascertain just how fit he was heading into this match. However, he would not be going through anything different to other young players in any league experiencing a run of poor form, so why some felt the need to kick him was beyond me.
Victory head into the final round still in contention for second spot but needing a win over Wellington Phoenix and other favorable results to get them there.
Newcastle are in desperate need of a miracle to squeeze into the top six ahead of Sydney FC who have a three point advantage with a superior goal difference. The Jets will have to come up with a big win over Adelaide and need Perth Glory to defeat the Sky Blues.