A good night out: Besart Berisha and his Melbourne Victory teammates had plenty to celebrate after their 4-1 thumping of Central Coast on Wednesday night. Photo: Darrian TraynorMelbourne Victory ran rampant against the hapless Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park, with Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Marco Rojas having a night out as Kevin Muscat’s side won 4-1 to move to a clear second place on the A-League ladder.
Rojas netted twice, with Ben Khalfallah providing the assist on both occasions, and James Donachie scored his first for the club after Victory were set on their way by a first-half own goal by Mariners defender Jake McGing. Trent Buhagiar’s last-minute consolation goal came too little to make any difference for the visitors.
Muscat’s side is now seven points behind runaway league leaders Sydney FC, but they do have a game in hand. In this sort of form it is not impossible that they could mount a challenge to Graham Arnold’s team’s domination of the season so far.
Victory was quickly into its stride and moved the ball with pace, bringing wide men Rojas and Ben Khalfallah into the game at every opportunity.
Both men seized their chances and attacked with fluency on the wings, Rojas in particular causing the Mariners defence problems early with his touch and pace when they gave him too much space or leeway.
In contrast, the Mariners attacks were few and far between.
Their most dangerous man was Portuguese winger Fabio Ferreira, whose galloping run down the right was only halted by a crude Jason Geria challenge which earned the Victory defender an early yellow card.
Central Coast goalkeeper Paul Izzo kept his side in the game with an excellent save to deny Ben Khalfallah after a sweeping Victory move initiated by Rojas. He found James Troisi, whose pass released Geria on the right. The full-back’s cross was met first time by Ben Khalfallah but kept out by Izzo.
Besart Berisha then set up Troisi only for his shot to be easily saved by Izzo.
Victory got the goal that had been coming all game in the 28th minute, and for a second it seemed as though Berisha had struck to give him a new A-League record of 91 goals, taking him past former teammate Archie Thompson. The latter laughed and danced in the commentary box as he thought his former strike partner had broken his record of 90 goals, but replays confirmed that it actually was an own goal, Berisha’s shot going wide until it took a deflection off McGing to beat Izzo.
The goalkeeper then saved from Ben Khalfallah, whose hunger and appetite for the game has certainly returned in recent weeks.
Ferreira had the Mariners best chance five minutes before the interval when he created space for himself and unleashed a fierce shot which Lawrence Thomas, who had had little to do, did well to parry wide. Mariners forward Roy O’Donovan could only fire the rebound into the side netting.
Troisi, still in search of his first goal of the season, again drew a blank, shooting wide at the end of the first half and then being thwarted by Izzo’s diving save early in the second period.
He might not be able to hit the net but the Socceroo midfielder is one of Victory’s best goal providers, and shortly after he illustrated his skills in that sphere once again.
Troisi’s deft free kick in the 50th minute was lofted into the penalty area at an inviting height and pace. Donachie was able to head home having escaped his marker, netting his first goal for the club and doubling the lead.
In response, former Victory winger Connor Pain tested Thomas at the other end with a well-struck shot the keeper tipped over.
It was all academic in the 58th minute after Victory stretched the lead to three.
Troisi won the ball in midfield and Ben Khalfallah unselfishly slid a pass to Rojas to score.
A minute later it was four, when Ben Khalfallah’s delightful chipped pass fell into Rojas’ path and he finished coolly past Izzo.