Melbourne Victory v New Zealand Knights

Melbourne Victory completed its first A-league season with a two-one win against last-place New Zealand Knights at Olympic Park on Saturday night in front of 10,078 dedicated fans. It was the closest one-sided game in the twenty-one rounds of matches with the home team having 58 per cent of the possession and 14 shots on target to just two.

Victory got a perfect start after Simon Storey’s shot was spilled by Knights’ keeper Glen Moss and had to be hacked behind for a corner. Kristian Sarkies’ inswinging effort was missed by everyone, except central defender Mark Byrnes who had a free header at the back post for the opening goal in the second minute.

In the 20th minute Victory’s Daniel Allsopp was pulled down in the penalty area by John Tambouras, allowing skipper Kevin Muscat to score his sixth goal of the season, five of which have come from the penalty spot.

The Knights have been anchored to the bottom of the league all season and played with big Neil Emblem and Sean Devine up front, but they offered little threat in the first half-hour, not winning even a corner-kick in that time. Victory had a string of corners and when Sarkies drove one in from the right in 36 minutes, defender Carl Recchia’s header thumped against the cross-bar and Byrnes fired the rebound past keeper Moss only for Sam Jasper to clear off the goal line. Sarkies and Michael Ferrante shot wide from good positions, but it was all Victory throughout the first half and it was clearly worth its two goal lead.

Ricky Diaco came on at half-time in place of Andy Vlahos as the Victory sought a third goal. But despite a number of near things it was unable to add to its tally and was punished for its profligacy. Two minutes into stoppage time the Knights’ youngster Jeremy Brockie was allowed to run free in the Victory defensive area and he finished with a drive past Michael Theoklitos. It was only the New Zealanders’ second shot on target in the game.

Overall it was a lack-lustre match with most of the atmosphere created by the diehard Melbourne fans whose banners showed both their sense of humour and that their patience with the lack of goals was wearing thin. Melbourne’s average crowd was over 14,158 which represented 76.5 per cent of the ground’s capacity, the highest in the A-League.

After the match Victory coach Ernie Merrick said the match was a microcosm of the season. “Our defence has been rock-solid and has hardly allowed the other team a shot at goal, our midfield have created lots of chances, our strikers have got on the end of things. Goalkeepers always have a fantastic game against us, so does the woodwork. It shows you the areas we have to work at for next year.”

Merrick is aware that the Victory must achieve results next year and make the finals and needs two strikers, a goalscoring midfielder and a mature full-back if it is to prosper.

New Zealand coach, John Adshead, admitted once again that the Knights had underestimated the standard of the A-League and had signed players from the English leagues who were not up to standard. He thought about seven and a maximum of ten of his current squad would survive the revamp of the Knights’ staff which is about to take place.

(An edited version appeared in the Geelong Advertiser, Monday 6 February 2006, p. 36).

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