Melbourne Victory will be hunting three wins in a row when they host high-flying bogey side Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Victory pulled local bragging rights back into their half of Melbourne last weekend with a 1-0 success over Melbourne City. Mark Milligan’s late, late penalty was enough to separate the teams and push Kevin Muscat’s men into the top five.
Though City wrestled back control in the second half on derby day, it is tough to argue against Victory being deserving of three points, arguably the better side for the overall majority of the game.
Meanwhile, the Jets simply continue soaring to new heights and took another leap into the stratosphere with an uncompromising 4-0 drubbing of Western Sydney Wanderers.
In a season where Newcastle have put together brilliant football almost week after week, their efforts on Friday night were their best and a simple 4-0 scoreline was flattering for their opponents.
Key Battle – Carl Valeri/Mark Milligan vs Ben Kantarovski/Steven Ugarkovic
Central to the Jets’ form has been the brilliance of their midfield, build on the dual foundations of Kantarovski and Ugarkovic. The two are unsung heroes and have formed arguably the best defensive-midfield duo in the league.
Both men were rewarded with goals against the Wanderers, looking to play the ball forward at every opportunity under a continued directive from Merrick.
Even away from home, the pair will look to do the same once more and will be faced by the daunting test of Valeri and Milligan – should he be recalled, that is – who by contrast will feel similarly tested.
While Merrick is tactically astute enough to move to magnets and draw his side back into any contest, the Jets will be eager to silence and frustrate the home Melbourne crowd early, and key to doing that will be getting on top in midfield.
That will bring makeshift centre-forward and former Victory outcast Andrew Nabbout into the game, where he will be hopefully of spoiling the party.
Victory regain veteran Leigh Broxham after a week’s absence, while Kenny Athiu is recalled into an extended squad. Muscat will see little reason to tamper with a winning formula, though is left with a conundrum in midfield. After keeping the faith in Mathias Sanchez for the derby, who probably repaid it, does he recall Milligan, who proved so influential? Against a team in such a rich vein of form, your best player simply has to start.
Melbourne Victory Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Thomas (GK); Geria, Williams, Deng, Nigro; Valeri, Milligan; Troisi, Barbarouses, George; Berisha.
Like Muscat, Ernie Merrick will be reluctant to alter a team that so comfortably walloped the Wanderers before Christmas. Nick Cowburn and former Victory man Danny Georgievski are back in an extended squad, while Devante Clut has been dropped.
Newcastle Jets Expected XI (4-3-3): Moss (GK); Koutroumbis, Boogaard, Topor-Stanley, Vujica; Kantarovski, Ugarkovic, Petratos; Hoffman, Champness, Nabbout.
This A-League fixture is a rare one Victory trail. The Jets boast 15 wins to Victory’s 13, with nine draws in between.
After Kosta Barbarouses’ stunning early opener, it all went south for Victory as captain Mark Milligan was sent off and Newcastle put four past them in a comprehensive 4-1 triumph.
Goals, and potentially lots of them, seem odds on. Newcastle are sustaining their form and enhanced it against a grossly out of sorts Western Sydney, while Victory finally seem to be putting some momentum together after a stop-start beginning to the season. The Jets will be supremely confident and will tough to stop with an early toehold on the game.
Melbourne Victory 2 Newcastle Jets 2