Sydney FC look home and hosed for the premiers’ plate as the A-League season approaches the half-way mark.
Graham Arnold’s titleholders, who lost only once last season, may only be five points clear of the pursuing Newcastle Jets, but even at this stage it’s hard to see any challengers putting together a run of results to threaten the Sky Blues.
However Melbourne Victory, buoyed by their last-gasp win over Melbourne City in Saturday night’s Christmas derby, will be hoping that triumph is the springboard to mount a challenge for a top-two position in the second half of the season.
They entertain the Jets on Friday night, and the outcome will tell us plenty about the prospects of the two teams.
The resurgent Jets under veteran coach Ernie Merrick have been a revelation this season and look set to make the finals for the first time since 2009-10, such is the
scale of the transformation Merrick has wrought so far this season.
But Victory coach Kevin Muscat believes that when his team, full of experienced campaigners, gets the bit between their teeth they can trouble anyone.
“We were really proactive and I get a good feeling when we’re in that type of mood and players get good reward when we’re in that type of mood,” he said of his side’s performance.
Victory was hamstrung early in the season by the absence of Milligan, James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses to international duty. They have been back a few weeks now, and Muscat’s men have won two of their last three as a result.
It was noticeable on Saturday night how effective the Jason Geria-Kosta Barbarouses combination was down the right flank, and that is something Merrick will be looking to curb when the Jets visit AAMI Park this Friday
“We’ve had some continuity … Kosta has spent some time with Jason, uninterrupted time, and getting that understanding and getting on the same page and [they were] causing all sorts of problems,” Muscat said.
For City it was a heartbreaking finale. They remain in third position and now must set themselves for a trip to crisis club Western Sydney on New Year’s day.
Coach Warren Joyce took a phlegmatic approach to the situation.
“I don’t think you look at the tables this time of year, or ever. You just look at one game at a time, and try to win the next game, because you can’t think three, five, eight games down the line,” he said.
“You can’t worry about the opposition, they have their own agenda. There’s a long way to go in the season, a lot of points to play for and the main objective I’ve ever talked about it winning the next game anyway.”