Pressure continues to mount on Victory

06 March, 2024

The A-League season has reached the pointy end, and the race is on for not only finals spots but seeding inside the top six. Melbourne Victory are in the midst of a form slump and has lost pace on the league’s top two sides, while Central Coast Mariners are firming as one of the favourites to take home silverware yet again. We analyse Victory’s dip in form and whether the Mariners can continue their solid form heading into a busy schedule.

A-LEAGUE ALERT

Melbourne Victory are in a spot of bother at the moment.

Victory fell to a 3-2 loss against Brisbane Roar on Sunday evening; their third defeat in the last five games after going undefeated in their first 15 games of the season.

On top of that, Victory have only won once in their last nine games, a come-from-behind 2-1 win over bottom-placed Western United, where Damien Da Silva scored twice in second-half stoppage time to secure the most unlikely of wins.

The most glaring issue throughout this run has been their lack of chance creation going forward, which has ultimately yielded little return on the scoreboard. Victory have only scored eight goals in their last nine games, with four of those coming in the two matches against Western and Brisbane.

Star striker Bruno Fornaroli has been unable to shoulder the load like he did in the early stages of the season, and is currently dealing with a hand injury that he’s opting to play through after a mini procedure.

But against Brisbane, the biggest issue was in defence, conceding three goals in a game for the first time since December 10, in a 4-3 win over Western Sydney Wanderers.

This wasn’t helped by the absence of suspended captain Roderick Miranda, but Victory have made a habit of being hard to break down throughout Tony Popovic’s reign as head coach.

“We played a lot of good games early in the year, but in the last month, we probably haven’t created as much as we’d like,” Popovic said after the loss to Brisbane.

“And then today, we didn’t defend well. We’ve got to get back to making it hard for the opposition, which we had been doing, and we certainly have a squad that has the ability.”

“We go into a big rivalry now in Adelaide. Those games are always special, and I don’t believe any motivation will be a problem. But, you know, we’ve got to get back to that aggression and that intensity that we had and bring that next week.”

The upcoming match against Adelaide serves as a great opportunity for Victory to find some form again, against a side that is currently in free fall. A win would bolster their fading hopes of a top-two finish but also lock in an all-important home final, especially with the two sides directly above them, Macarthur FC and Central Coast Mariners playing each other on Sunday.

After that, they face Western United, Perth Glory and Melbourne City – outside the top six – in three consecutive games at AAMI Park.

Wins are paramount at this stage of the season. Starting with a win over the Reds on Saturday may breathe some life back into Victory’s campaign heading into a huge few weeks for the club.

 

Mariners’ quest for back-to-back rolls on

Central Coast Mariners’ season has completely flipped on its head since the end of Round 4.

The reigning A-League Men’s champions started the season with four losses from four games but have since been on an absolute tear.

Central Coast have only lost once in their last 16 league games, climbing up the ladder to sit in second place and entrench themselves firmly in the mix for not only the Premiership but the Championship when finals roll around in a couple of months.

Mark Jackson – who took over from Nick Montgomery – has done a tremendous job at steadying the ship since their rocky start, showing brilliant tactical acumen to get the best out of his squad despite losing a host of key players both before and during the season including Jason Cummings, Sammy Silvera and Marco Tulio.

Josh Nisbet has been the heartbeat of the Mariners side this season, tallying six assists and scoring one goal in the league, that coming against the Newcastle Jets last weekend.

In defence, they have been ultra sturdy, and haven’t conceded in three straight league games, headlined by the likes of Brian Kaltak, Dan Hall and Jacob Farrell.

While going forward the Mariners have been just as ruthless, headlined by Colombian star Angel Torres who has 11 goals this season, while the likes of Alou Kuol, Jing Reec and Ryan Edmonson have chimed in at different points with goals of their own.

But the Mariners are now heading into a busy month which may make or break their season, balancing both league and AFC Cup duties in the coming weeks, starting with their two-legged tie with Indian side Odisha which will see them travel to the subcontinent next week.

Jackson has shown brilliant ingenuity to keep his squad fresh by making the necessary changes to avoid burnout on tight turnarounds, and it will be a fascinating watch to see if they can continue to manage these workloads and maintain their league form should they defeat Odisha and progress to the next round, which will involve travel to either Chinese Taipei or Kyrgyzstan.

Around the Grounds: Round 20 Preview

 

Western Sydney Wanderers v Western United

The round starts in Parramatta as Western Sydney Wanderers look to return to winning ways against Western United. The Wanderers – who are in sixth place – need a win to kick clear of the trailing pack that remain three points behind, while Western have had a mini resurgence as of late and won’t be an easy beat for Marko Rudan’s side despite sitting in bottom.

 

Melbourne City v Wellington Phoenix

Melbourne City’s season hangs in the balance when they welcome league leaders Wellington Phoenix to AAMI Park on Saturday. City are losing track with the top six, sitting five points outside the top six and without a win in five games. It won’t be easy against the high flying 

‘Nix who are unbeaten in 10 straight games.

 

Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory

Two teams desperate for a win lock horns in the third Original Rivalry of the season, as Adelaide United take on Melbourne Victory at Coopers Stadium. The Reds are in free fall at the moment, and need a win to not only arrest the slide but keep their season alive. Meanwhile, Victory have only won once in their last nine games and are also hoping to stay in touch with the top two.

 

Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets

Perth Glory and Newcastle Jets’ finals hopes go on the line this weekend at HBF Park. Both sides sit eight and nine points outside the top six and need a win to stay in the hunt. Glory have been solid at home, going unbeaten in their last three games, while Newcastle are without a win in their last six matches.

 

Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar

High flying Sydney FC will look to continue their hot streak this weekend, when they take on Brisbane Roar at Allianz Stadium. The Sky Blues are unbeaten in seven games and are flying up the ladder, with a home final now in sight. Meanwhile, Brisbane climbed back into finals contention with a huge win over Melbourne Victory and could go level with sixth place Western Sydney by defeating the Sky Blues.

 

Macarthur FC v Central Coast Mariners

Two of the league’s in-form sides Macarthur and Central Coast Mariners lock horns on Sunday. The Bulls are five points behind the Mariners on the table and could bolster their top two hopes significantly with a win, while Central Coast are hoping to edge closer to securing the all important week off by claiming three points. The two sides played out a thriller in their AFC Cup clash only a couple weeks ago, so this could have all the hallmarks of a highly entertaining contest in Campbelltown.

 

Tips

Western Sydney Wanderers v Western United – Draw

Melbourne City v Wellington Phoenix – Draw

Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory – Draw

Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets – Perth Glory to win

Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar – Sydney FC to win

Macarthur FC v Central Coast Mariners – Central Coast Mariners to win

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