Victory sets platform for late-season charge

Will Melbourne Victory emerge from the pack and be able to mount a serious challenge to the A-League domination of Sydney FC?

After a stuttering start to the season, Kevin Muscat's team demonstrated its credentials in excellent fashion with a good win over second-placed Newcastle Jets on Friday night in a thrilling game at AAMI Park. The 2-1 scoreline probably flattered the undermanned visitors.

Victory missed a penalty when Mark Milligan shot at Glen Moss, and also had a goal disallowed for offside when Besart Berisha's volley was ruled out.

On the other hand, the Jets could have sneaked what even coach Ernie Merrick admitted would have been a fortuitous point had Jason Hoffman been able to direct one of two straightforward headers past Lawrence Thomas from close range.

Victory has now won three on the spin and four of its past five to accelerate up the table and now sits third on the ladder, albeit a long way behind leader Sydney.

But it has, at least until Melbourne City plays on New Year's Day, overhauled its cross-town rival and is within six points of the Jets.

Victory is playing with confidence and much more authority than it did early in the season when international call-ups and injuries disrupted its flow.

Every team misses its top players, but the way the international schedule ran with World Cup play-offs meant that James Troisi, Mark Milligan and Kosta Barbarouses were only bit part players for their club for the first half dozen or so rounds of the campaign.

Strong performances by centre back Rhys Williams - who must surely be a consideration for the next Socceroos squad, whoever it is that is picking it -and Dutch winger Leroy George helped underpin the team during those fretful first few weeks when they could not win a game.

It is no accident that things have started to turn around with the reintegration of the international trio into the team. Not all of them have played well on every single occasion, but they add experience and know how and opposing teams always have to use resources to shackle them, freeing up space for others.

Most noticeable since their return has been the improvement in full back Jason Geria. The athletic defender looked to be on the verge of a major career a few seasons ago, winning recognition from then national coach Ange Postecoglou as a fringe Socceroo.

But he rather lost his way after that and looked to be treading water. However in recent weeks he has really got a spring in his step and is linking up well on the right flank with Barbarouses, the pair combining to set up Victory's first goal against Newcastle on Friday night.

A characteristic of Victory's good recent run has been the aggression and pace with which they have started games, and the win over the Jets was no exception.

Muscat's men pressed aggressively and tried to move the ball at pace into wide areas, with an energised Besart Berisha foraging up front supported by Barbarouses and Troisi.

It was something that the coach was delighted by post-match.

"There was certainly a lot of action. Our game is decided on moments. Leroy goes through in the first half (and hits the post shortly after Barbarouses opener) .....we could come in at half time 2-0, then moments later you are 1-1 (after Hoffman scored an equaliser).

"We really got on top of them in the second half, pressed forward and created lots of chances.

"We also had a penalty, I think on balance the result was right. I am sure, I am more than sure, that the result was right.

"You can sense that we are playing with some confidence, chipping away and building, and I thought tonight was another step in the right direction."

Muscat agreed that Geria has stepped up and become a potent part of the team's attack as well as defence.

"I think Jason enjoys playing with Kosta. He is a player with immense potential. He has taken steps in the right direction to get the best out of himself.

"He was menacing going forward tonight and defended ever so well. He is becoming an attacking threat for us. He wins a penalty, he is putting balls into the box. He put the ball into Kosta for the first goal.

"The fact we are getting some continuity and having players spend some good time together (has been important)."

Victory had been hammered 4-1 by the Jets earlier this year when Milligan was sent off early in the game, and Muscat was equally delighted to have exorcised that memory.

"We flew from Perth direct to Newcastle (for that game) played with a four-day break and had a man sent off after 20 minutes. There were some circumstances around our game and we weren't proud of our performance (in Newcastle). Tonight here at AAMI Park we are very proud of our performance.

"There's been a lot of responsibility taken, players are back and settled, we have some continuity.The leaders have led from the front.

"The playing group have to take a lot of credit for their application.It could have been one or two more."

This story Victory sets platform for late-season charge first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.