Melbourne Victory have sewn up a finals spot with a fairly comfortable 2-0 win over the struggling Newcastle Jets tonight. Second-half goals from Tom Pondeljak and Australian international Robbie Kruse compounded the straight red card shown to Jets midfielder Marcello Fiorentini as the Victory temporarily moved to fourth on the table, depending on the result of the Gold Coast United v Adelaide United match which follows.
The Victory are now eight points clear of sixth-placed Wellington Phoenix and a further two clear of derby rivals Heart. It was their third win in a row and their fifth match undefeated whilst the Jets' finals chances slipped away with a fourth consecutive loss and a seventh defeat in their last nine outings.
Venue: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne Crowd: 11,296 Referee: Strebre Delovski Yellow cards:MV - Roddy Vargas 17' NJ - Jobe Wheelhouse 71' Red card:NJ - Marcello Fiorentini 62'
The Victory crowd had a bit of a dent in it as the North Terrace fans stayed away in protest after the treatment they received from police after the Gold Coast match on Sunday but those that were at Etihad Stadium were still in full voice.
It was a fairly scrappy opening with neither side troubling the opposing keeper for the first 15 minutes until Danny Allsopp forced Ben Kennedy into a neat save from an angled shot from the right side of the penalty area.
Jets forward Jeremy Brockie won a free-kick outside the area two minutes later and his dangerous dead ball attempt needed a quick reaction from Victory's Michael Petkovic who was able to tip it over the bar.
Allsopp pounced on a defensive error by Jets right-back Tarek Elrich in the 22nd minute, gathering the ball as Sam Gallaway tried to clear, before turning and thundering a shot goalward which Kennedy managed to parry away with an errant left glove to spare the blushes of his defence.
Kennedy was being kept busy and came up with another vital save when Mate Dugandzic had a crack from an angle before Jets defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley came close with a 27th minute header from a corner as the visitors toiled to get into the contest.
Melbourne were looking far more likely to score but overall the first 45 minutes left a lot to be desired.
The Victory were close to an opener early in the second half when Gallaway struggled to clear a Victory cross and required Kennedy to rush out and give him assistance to keep the ball away from the goal line.
GOAL Finally the Victory broke down the Jets in the 57th minute when veteran midfielder Tom Pondeljak scored with an audacious flick with the outside of his boot from the edge of the area. Youngster Dugandzic produced some nice work, getting around a couple of Jets defenders, before teeing up Pondeljak who did the rest for just his second of the season.
Allsopp had another strong chance less than a minute later when Marvin Angulo found him all by himself in the area but the in-form striker's shot lacked venom, allowing Kennedy to make an easy save.
Newcastle's job was made even more difficult when Italian midfielder Marcello Fiorentini was shown a straight red in the 62nd minute for giving Angulo a wrap on the shins after an aerial contest. The contact was certainly there but perhaps a red was a little too harsh from referee Strebre Delovski.
Jets striker Marko Jesic found some space outside the area three minutes after the sending off and drove forward, forcing Petkovic to get down low for a save but the Jets were soon on the rebound as the Victory went further ahead. GOAL Petkovic took the ball from a corner before releasing Angulo who took the ball into the Victory attacking half, propping to weigh up his options, before supplying a defence-splitting pass for the returning Robbie Kruse who took one touch then finished neatly past Kennedy in the 70th minute.
Kennedy almost made a meal of an 82nd minute attempt from Victory substitute Matt Foschini as the ball slipped out of his hands and onto the upright when it should have been a fundamental save but luckily for the overworked Jets keeper it fell to safety.
From there it was a long way back for Branko Culina's men who have been ravaged by injury in recent times and with finals so close you would have thought they could put up more of a fight but the Victory controlled the tempo in the final 10 minutes and in the end ran out convincing winners.
MV Michael Petkovic (gk), Diogo Ferreira (Ricardinho 66'), Adrian Leijer, Roddy Vargas, Petar Franjic, Matthew Kemp (Foschini 76'), Tom Pondeljak, Marvin Angulo, Mate Dugandzic, Robbie Kruse (Pilkington 83'), Adrian Leijer
Subs - Sebastian Mattei (gk), Ricardinho (66'), Matthew Foschini (76'), Luke Pilkington (83')
NJ Ben Kennedy (gk), Adam D'Apuzzo, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Sam Gallaway, Tarek Elrich, Jobe Wheelhouse, Marcello Fiorentini, James Virgili (Zhang 60'), Jeremy Brockie, Labinot Haliti (Simic 74'), Marko Jesic (Pepper 74')