Vic­tory cuts off tail

MEL­BOURNE TAKES CARE OF NEW­CAS­TLE AND PUTS GAP BE­TWEEN TOP SIX AND WANNABES

Shepparton News - - SPORT -

Mel­bourne Vic­tory’s tight de­feat of New­cas­tle is a cru­cial win in the con­text of the A-League ti­tle race.

Vic­tory star James Troisi’s un­stop­pable Satur­day night strike, just four min­utes from time, kept his team in touch with run­away leader Perth, al­ready three points clear.

But that same strike had dire con­se­quences fur­ther down the ta­ble, with the Jets bat­tling to stay in touch with the top six.

The gulf be­tween six­th­placed Ade­laide United and sev­enth-placed New­cas­tle is al­ready seven points, lead­ing Ernie Mer­rick to con­cede an up­hill bat­tle for his strug­gling side.

‘‘There’s no doubt the gap is get­ting big­ger,’’ he said.

‘‘The sixth team won again which (was) Welling­ton Phoenix who are play­ing re­ally well and scor­ing goals.

‘‘The gap is get­ting larger and we’re shoot­ing our­selves in the foot. (We’re) play­ing so well and, yet, we con­cede goals from fewer shots than what we cre­ate.’’

While Mer­rick said his re­turn­ing for­wards meant the Jets had ‘‘a good enough squad to beat any­one’’, with­out a quick uptick in re­sults, there was no sign of the fi­nals race be­com­ing in­ter­est­ing any time soon.

The form lines sug­gest a wors­en­ing of the break be­tween the A-League’s good and or­di­nary.

The Jets, Wan­der­ers (eighth), Bris­bane (ninth) and Cen­tral Coast (last) have all failed to win at least in their past four matches.

Mel­bourne City (fourth), Welling­ton (fifth) and Ade­laide are each un­beaten in at least four.

That all means the pri­mary in­ter­est is go­ing to be in the fin­ish­ing places of the top six, and Vic­tory coach Kevin Mus­cat says the round-13 ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the lad­der mean lit­tle to him.

‘‘It’s im­por­tant to put on a per­for­mance and put on a per­for­mance that earns us three points,’’ Mus­cat said.

‘‘In re­la­tion to next week, next month and three or four months’ time, it’s way too early to be look­ing too far down the tun­nel.’’

Vic­tory played within them­selves on Satur­day, when goals from Terry An­to­nis and Troisi earned the club a 2-1 win against New­cas­tle.

Mus­cat praised all of his play­ers for a ‘‘tremen­dous ef­fort’’ — just three days af­ter a loss to Ade­laide and three days be­fore a trip to Bris­bane — but sin­gled out re­called for­ward Kenny Athiu for praise.

The gan­gly striker, in for rested for­ward Kosta Bar­barouses, played a de­light­ful back­heel that led to An­to­nis’ opener.

‘‘He con­trib­uted enor­mously tonight . . . Kenny’s touch for the first goal was out­stand­ing,’’ he said.

Pic­ture: AAP/Hamish Blair

Oh baby: James Troisi cel­e­brates his goal for Vic­tory with the ball up his shirt.

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