Mebourne Victory jumped to third on the A-League ladder with an inconsistent yet comprehensive 3-1 win over the reigning champions Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park on Friday night.
The result also sees the Mariners drop to 5th on the ladder, whilst their eyes will be squarely apon the Sydney Derby where a win for the sky blue side of town will see the Gosford team drop to sixth.
The Victory can now relax somewhat after they opened up a 3 point margin on the closest trailing teams and reaffirmed themselves as contenders for a top two place.
In a game that begun slowly and never really gathered pace in the first half, neither team could take control of the ball for extended periods, and meaningful opportunities were few and far between. The Victory could count themselves lucky to not be behind however as the Marners, who were the more prosperous of the two, could simply not convert in front of goal, highlighted by Nick Fitzgerald, whos glancing header in front of an all but empty net should have been hit with power. Instead, the chance was spurned and a harmless goal kick signalled.
Melbourne then capitolised on the Mariners poor finishing when a skillfully crafted move by Gui Finkler ended in a pinpoint pass to James Jeggo on the edge of the box. A dummy fooled two Central Coast defenders, before he pulled the trigger from just inside the box and found Reddy's unprotected far corner, but the keeper was hardly to blame. Victory taking the lead aginst the run of play and into the half time interval.
The second half brought with it a refreshing change of pace as both teams gathered more attacking momentum and pressured the opposition defence with considerably more gusto than the first. The Mariners were the first to benefit, where a poor decision from Victory stopper Lawrence Thomas saw his attempted punch to a Kim Seung-Yong free kick hit nothing but air as the ball cleared the pack and found defender Zac Anderson, who on the second attempt powered the ball into the top of the net to restore parity on 61 minutes.
Anderson soon went from hero to villain, as a stray hand sticking out from his torso lead to Melbourne's second. A low Archie Thompson cross struck Anderson on the arm inside the box, and a penalty was correctly awarded. Leading Victory goal scorer James Troisi made no mistake from the spot, banging it home off the underside of the crossbar outside of Liam Reddy's despairing reach.
Victory then parked the bus and played on the counter, repelling and wearing down the continual attack from the Central Coast, before a late goal by substitute Kosta Barbarousis clinched the result. The Mariners lost their structure chasing the second equaliser, and it proved to be their downfall as a swift counter attack from Melbourne in the dying stages of injury time ended with Barbarousis running onto a low cross to all but end the Central Coast chance of stealing a point.
Victory's win serves as an attonement for their drubbing at the hand of cross town rivals Melbourne Heart last weekend, whilst the Mariners woes continued with their sixth loss in seven games across all competitions. Early missed chances from the Central Coast will need to be rectified heading into next weeks F3 Derby against traditional rivals Newcastle Jets.