Victory keep season alive with vital win
It was billed as make or break for Melbourne Victory, and Friday's 2-1 win over the Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park certainly has the potential to do the former for the Hyundai A-League finals ambitions of Jim Magilton's men.
Goals from a reborn Carlos Hernandez and marquee man Harry Kewell after Tom Rogic's opener for the Mariners ensured Victory claimed a first win in six matches and a maiden triumph for interim coach Jim Magilton.
Most importantly, the victory breathed much-needed life into their finals ambitions.
AAMI Park had last Saturday witnessed the emergence of one young star in Melbourne Heart left-back Craig Goodwin against Victory.
On Friday, it was Rogic, who lit up the match on eight minutes when he waltzed by debutant defender Ubay Luzardo, making the most of the space afforded him to thread a skidding left-foot strike across Victory goalkeeper Ante Covic and into the right-hand corner.
Victory responded, however, appearing more fluid in the middle of the park then they had for weeks.
Mark Milligan, Harry Kewell and James Jeggo - in his first A-League start for the club - all took turns dropping back to take the ball from defence.
The hosts then pulled level on 15 minutes, when Marco Rojas' superb cutback found Hernandez on the edge of the area.
The Costa Rica international opened his body to hit a booming first-time shot, with the ball hitting Pasfield's right-hand upright on its way in.
The flowing tone to the match continued, with the Mariners targeting makeshift Victory right-back Petar Franjic's flank and the home side looking dangerous in transition.
Former Australia Futsal representative and Nike Chance winner Rogic - in just his second A-League start - threatened again on 28 minutes after Victory's defence appeared not to have heeded the lesson on space offered from his opener, while his lobbed shot four minutes later was closer still.
Thompson and Hernandez combined on the edge of the area for Victory but Trent Sainsbury - in for the injured Pedj Bojic - was aware and cleared the ball at the precise moment.
The teams traded chances as the first half drew to a close; Justin Pasfield and his well-positioned leg pulled off the save of the night from Hernandez' point-blank shot, while Daniel McBreen's header from a corner bounced over the bar.
It took just five minutes after the restart for Kewell to put Victory ahead.
Hernandez's corner was meant for Kewell at the far post, but a spot of head tennis ensued before he finally got his chance.
The former Leeds United man met Jeggo's header with his left foot, lashing home to delight the home fans.
Kwasnik fired over from close range four minutes later but, with Hernandez doing everything to show he may yet have a future at the club past this season, Victory were beginning to get on top.
Sainsbury's straight red card after 61 minutes for his studs-up tackle on Fabio gave Victory further impetus, and they put together some superb passages of play - including one of almost two minutes when the Mariners did not touch the ball.
Kwasnik's inventiveness came to nothing on 76 minutes, while Allsopp's perseverance ended in his effort blazing well over Pasfield's bar.
Ibini's arrival on 81 minutes coincided with Victory slipping back into unsure ways, though Allsopp kept Pasfield on his toes with a well-hit drive on 83 minutes.
Thompson made it even tougher for the Central Coast No.2 two minutes later when he cut back inside from the left and curled a shot goalwards, but Pasfield was again alert.
Victory seemed to find their composure again as stoppage time loomed - the scourge of their draws against Sydney FC and Gold Coast United.
They should have sealed the result when Kewell skied over with one minute of regular time remaining, but had done enough to move within just goal difference of sixth-placed Newcastle Jets, who play Melbourne Heart on Saturday.