Don’t you just love it when your modest expectations are exceeded. That was the feeling tens of thousands of A-League fans experienced when they tuned in to watch an under pressure Melbourne Victory take on the seemingly depleted Central Coast Mariners last night at AAMI Park.
Melbourne Victory supporters went into the match feeling underwhelmed and as a result only fourteen thousand turned up to watch after their team back up after last week’s mediocre performance in the Melbourne derby.
Fox Sports football presenter Adam Peacock captured the indifference zeitgeist when tweeting from a head wetting drinks session in Manly.
“Awesome that the karzi hole of a pub I’m in isnt showing the @aleague – lucky it seems like a boring game.”
At the end of the match I responded to Adam.
“You just missed one of the best games of the season. No bullshit.”
The game had everything. Two teams intent on playing positive attractive football, three spectacular goals, chances galore and the almost inevitable refereeing controversy with Peter Green harshly sending off the Mariner’s Trent Sainsbury in the second half.
I am going to focus on two important factors which helped turned the game into such a great showpiece for the A-League.
Young Tomas Rogic for the Mariners and the introduction of a brand spanking new midfield pairing for Victory of Mark Milligan and Jimmy Jeggo.
The elevated tone of the match was set as early as the ninth minute when 19 year old Rogic collected a pass from just beyond the half-way line, glided past the Victory debutant Ubay Luzardo and expertly found space outside the box to beat Victory’s stalwart keeper Ante Covic with precision.
Poor Luzardo, who just spent three years in Hong Kong, must have thought he was playing in La Liga and not the A-League as Rogic made a good fist of impersonating Zinedine Zidane with his precocious poise and brilliance.
And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Rogic went close to scoring what would arguably have been goal of the season later in the half when he hustled Jeggo off the ball, ran at a pace towards a retreating defence and audaciously chipped the ball just inches wide of the post.
The desperate necessity for results finally saw Victory manager Jim Magilton ring the changes in midfield. Out went the moribund midfield of Grant Brebner (suspension) and Leigh Broxham (form) and in came Jeggo from the youth team and Milligan who was pushed up from the last line.
And what a diferrence they made.
For the first time in Magilton’s reign we witnessed a midfield with the requisite dynamism and ability to try and play a passing game. Victory fans could not believe theirs eyes.
Jeggo’s meritorious performance was capped off when he beat Rogic for a header to set up Harry Kewell for his expertly taken winner in 51st minute.
Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the tremendous thunderbolt from Carlos Hernandez which leveled the scores early in the first half. The recently out of favour Costa Rican was back to his old tricks and with his new supporting midfield cast he is pivotal to Victory’s hopes of belatedly resurrecting their season.
A few weeks ago I wrote on how difficult it was going to be for the Mariners sustain their form all the way to the Grand Final. They have now suffered two losses on the bounce.
However, all is not lost, if Rogic keeps improving, their replacement for Matt Simon, John Sutton, starts firing and their Olyroos, Ryan, Amini & Bozanic returning, it should give them the confidence to not only win the premiership, but also give the title a shake.
As for Melbourne Victory, their fans walked out of AAMI Park last night rejuvenated.
With a finals berth re-appearing on their radar, they could not escape the feeling that, maybe, just maybe, their season had all of a sudden just started again.
One thing I know for sure, most matches played in the EPL this weekend will not be as entertaining as the game we witnessed last night.
A sure sign that the A-League is heading in the right direction.
Athas Zafiris is on Twitter @ArtSapphire