A depleted Melbourne Victory team showed why it has the best defence in the A-League, with a gritty 0-0 draw against Central Coast in Gosford on Saturday night.
Missing Harry Kewell, Carlos Hernandez (both international duty), Ante Covic and Matt Foschini (suspension), as well as injured players such as Grant Brebner, Isaka Cernak and Diogo Ferreira, Melbourne were always going to find it difficult against a quality Central Coast outfit. In their place, out of form duo Tom Pondlejak and Billy Celeski started in midfield, while Matthew Kemp made his first start of the season at right back for Foschini.
Celeski and Pondlejak showed why most Melbourne fans believe they are playing for their futures, although we expect Pondlejak to retire at seasons end. Both struggled to penetrate a resolute Central Coast defence, and even struggled to hit simple 5 metre passes to teammates. Matty Kemp was solid in his first game in a long time, and even had a good chance to snatch a goal. But to me, its as if his best position is in midfield, where he was playing in 2009/10 and earned a national team cap before his knee injury. In my opinion, Kemp was the best left sided player in the country at that time and was a real possibility to make the World Cup squad.
The thing that helped Melbourne the most though was the profligacy showed by the Mariners forwards. Every time I’ve seen Matt Simon and Daniel McBreen play, they both just seem like clumsy guys who are only in the team for their strength. Simon cant finish anything bar a tap in, and McBreen is very hot and cold it seems. The CCM midfield carved out enough chances for either person to slot past Lawrence Thomas, but neither could take advantage. Thomas done his best to try and gift the Mariners a goal, allowing a innocuous ball to slip through his gloves, only to be cleared off the line by Roddy Vargas. Despite having a easy header and being almost double the height of Fabio, Simon could only put his rebound onto the crossbar, with the ball falling onto the line then being swatted out by Thomas.
The signs are ominous for Melbourne however. Without Kewell, Hernandez and Brebner, the midfield coughed up the ball on regular occasions. Durakovic has expressed his desire to play “short, sharp passing”, but i would have thought ball retention would be key to that. Archie Thompson was isolated most of the night, which is what you don’t want when you have the league’s best forward up front.
All in all, it was a point gained for Melbourne, and two points lost for Central Coast. Next week for Victory is Perth Glory, who were unlucky to lose against Sydney last week. Hopefully Kewell is fit enough to play some part, and it will be good to see Hernandez back dictating the midfield.