Knights v Victory

A-League report by Jeremy Ruane
New Zealand Knights v Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory's relentless march towards the Hyundai A-League premiership crown continued unabated at North Harbour Stadium on October 27, as they handed the New Zealand Knights an eighth successive defeat by thumping them 4-0 in front of 2357 fans.

It took until the second half for the gulf in class between the league's leading and languishing teams to truly emerge, for the first half was, to be blunt, uninspiring. Defences largely dominated proceedings, so much so that imaginative play and variation were severely stifled, and over-hit passes were commonplace.

Only occasionally did creativity conquer containment during this spell, with the home team's bright start culminating in Fernando de Moraes lashing a twenty yarder into the gloves of Michael Theoklitos in the fifth minute, seconds after Steve Pantelidis had blocked a Malik Buari drive from similar distance.

The Knights were rocked back on their heels in the eighth minute, however, as Melbourne took the lead with their first attack of note in the game. Jonti Richter's covering tackle on Danny Allsopp forced a corner, which saw Grant Brebner and Archie Thompson play a one-two before the midfielder curled over a cross.

His target was Fred, who had, somewhat bizarrely, left completely unattended by the Knights' defenders as he lurked around the edge of the goal area. Cue a free header, and Victory were on their way to inflicting defeat on another A-League opponent.

The Knights sought a quick riposte, Scot Gemmill and Adam Casey combining neatly to prise open Melbourne's rearguard, the latter's driven low cross being smothered by Theoklitos in the thirteenth minute.

Nine minutes later, Neil Emblen - the pick of the Kiwi team once again - battled well to win possession in midfield and promptly slipped it into Richter's path. He charged at the defence before letting fly, only to see Theoklitos block his effort with his legs.

The former Football Kingz goalkeeper was at it again three minutes later, denying Richter once more as the speedster kept the Melbourne defence on the back foot. But Theoklitos' clearance sparked the visitors' second chance of the game, which featured a delightful interchange between Fred, Adrian Caceres and Archie Thompson, whose delicious lob of the stranded Danny Milosevic dipped a little too late from Melbourne's perspective.

It was the last chance of note in the entire half, but the game's claustrophobic nature evaporated in the second spell as both teams threw off the shackles and went for it, the Knights only fleetingly, however.

They began the half brightly, with Emblen and the effervescent Noah Hickey unleashing wayward efforts inside the first six minutes, before the latter let fly with a dipping twenty-five yarder struck on the run in the 55th minute. Like Thompson's first half effort, its trajectory altered too late to alter the scoreline.

Within three minutes, that had been altered, twice, and the game was over as a contest as a result. Darren Bazeley's attempt to clear up the line was charged down by the closing figure of Caceres, with Fred latching onto the rebound. He rolled it into Thompson's path, the striker steering the ball home expertly into the top far corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.

2-0 in the 56th minute became 3-0 in the 58th, as Brebner picked out Caceres' angled run in behind the defence with a delightfully weighted pass. His deft shot crept past the advancing figure of Milosevic and on into the net, Thompson racing in to make sure only to unselfishly avoid touching the ball and allow his team-mate to savour the plaudits.

With the game won, Melbourne could quite easily have eased off the throttle, but the league leaders weren't remotely interested in showing mercy to a team which is clearly out of their depth in this competition. As well, Caceres, Fred and Thompson were very much in the mood, and they were producing some delightful combination play as a result.

Such as in the 62nd minute. Caceres was on the charge, then promptly slipped the ball into Fred's path. He deftly nutmegged Emblen before squaring the sphere to the feet of Allsopp. Milosevic blocked this effort well with his legs, then grabbed a twenty-five yarder from Caceres five minutes later after he had linked with his fellow chaos-causing collaborators.

The trio teamed up again in the 69th minute, Caceres' lovely pass putting Thompson in on the right. He lifted the ball over the diving figure of Milosevic, but the ball went just past the post, with Emblen covering the effort to make certain.

The defender and his colleagues were left chasing shadows again in the 71st minute, as Melbourne made it 4-0. Caceres was roaming on the left this time, with Fred in close support.

The Brazilian accelerated just as his colleague split the defence with a peach of a pass, Fred latching onto the ball behind the beaten back-liners and firing a low first-time cross in towards the near post. Arriving bang on cue was Allsopp, who swept home his sixth goal of the season with some aplomb.

And still they pressed, Milosevic thwarting Allsopp after the striker had let fly upon striding onto a pass from half-time substitute Kristian Sarkies, who had surged forward upon playing a one-two with Brebner in the 77th minute.

Four minutes later, a whirlwind eight-pass interchange left the Knights chasing shadows as Melbourne moved through the gears. It was a pity Sarkies' chip of Milosevic drifted wide, as this would have been the best goal of the night, no question.

As it was, four proved more than suffice for Melbourne to savour victory, although once they eased off the pressure, the Knights gallantly pursued a consolation goal, forcing four successive corners in the 82nd and 83rd minutes.

But they were well outclassed in this encounter, and while Melbourne concern themselves with pursuits of premierships, championships and FIFA Club World Cup qualification, the Knights have more sobering objectives on which to set their sights - getting to double figures on the points table, arresting an eight-match losing streak and rediscovering the prized art of goalscoring on a regular basis being but three of them!