A pulsating first half last round saw five goals scored and Melbourne Victory maintain their unbeaten start to the season, winning 3-2 over arch rivals Adelaide United. The win was largely due to the Reds scoring two own goals in the opening 20 minutes of the Friday night match. Victory now travel to North Sydney Oval, to take on the Mariners, for only the second ever A-League game to be played at the ground.
Friday night’s game against Adelaide was, for the most part, tame when compared with other Melbourne v Adelaide clashes. With both sides going into the match unbeaten and in prolific goal scoring form, the stage for a classic contest was set.
Arguably, the most entertaining and frenetic opening half of football in the league saw all five goals of the match scored within these opening 45 minutes.
Despite the win, the most prolific attack in the competition only scored through own goals and a diminutive utility Leigh Broxham.
However, concern shifted from the attack to the midfield, with playmaker Gui Finkler coming off injured in the 75th minute.
Finkler has been outstanding in the centre of the park and with no-one in the squad as a straight replacement for the Brazilian the front third looks set to be altered to compensate for this loss.
A topic of discussion which dominated Victory’s weekly media opportunities was the state of the North Sydney Oval pitch. Although goalkeeper Nathan Coe said the team would be focusing on getting the three points and not the pitch, it was still heavily discussed particularly pertaining to player safety.
The surface has caused concern for many players and Muscat confirmed that he was “only addressing it because players [had] addressed it with [him].”
The coach added that “they [the players] don’t feel the pitch is safe” and alluded to a poorer performance and lessened spectacle due to players playing “with a handbrake on tomorrow night.”
The players have very genuine fears over their safety on this pitch and this, along with the fact that Victory had to play on a cricket pitch in round two against Adelaide as well as the patchy, recently re-laid surface at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle, prompted Muscat to call for a review into what constitutes a safe surface.
Muscat has made it clear that the surface of North Sydney Oval will dictate his squad and how his side lines up on Friday night. When asked about Finkler and Galloway’s injuries, both deemed to be soreness, the coach said “under the circumstances and where we have to play, there was no point trying to get them [Finkler and Galloway] up for this week.”
Muscat deemed that playing on “a cricket pitch” would be too much of a risk to their bodies and later included Nick Ansell in this group, who played his first minutes for the club this season coming on as a substitute for Galloway on Friday night.
Galloway and Finkler have both stayed in Melbourne, while Ansell has travelled but judging by the coach’s comments won’t start or play too much of a role in the game.
Jason Geria makes his return to the squad and is a likely replacement for Galloway in the fullback position. There has been more discussion over who will fill Finkler’s place in the heart of Victory’s attack, with Jesse Makarounas looking the most likely option.