A-League finals race taking shape as Melbourne Victory downs Newcastle Jets
Melbourne Victory's tight 2-1 defeat of Newcastle is a crucial win in the context of the A-League title race.
Victory star James Troisi's unstoppable Saturday night strike, just four minutes from time, kept his team in touch with runaway leaders Perth, already three points clear.
But that same strike had dire consequences further down the table, with the Jets battling to stay in touch with the top six.
The gulf between sixth-placed Adelaide United and seventh-placed Newcastle is already seven points, leading Ernie Merrick to concede an uphill battle for his struggling side.
"There's no doubt the gap is getting bigger," he said.
"The sixth team won again which [was] Wellington Phoenix who are playing really well and scoring goals.
"The gap is getting larger and we're shooting ourselves in the foot. [We're] playing so well and, yet, we concede goals from fewer shots than what we create."
While Merrick said his returning forwards meant the Jets had "a good enough squad to beat anyone," without a quick uptick in results, there's no sign of the finals race becoming interesting any time soon.
The form lines suggest a worsening of the break between the A-League's good and ordinary.
The Jets, Wanderers (eighth), Brisbane (ninth) and Central Coast (last) have all failed to win at least their past four matches.
Melbourne City (fourth), Wellington (fifth) and Adelaide are each unbeaten in at least four.
That all means the primary interest is going to be in the finishing places of the top six, and Victory coach Kevin Muscat says the round-13 ramifications for the ladder mean very little to him.
"It's important to put on a performance and put on a performance that earns us three points," he said.
"In relation to next week, next month and three or four months' time, it's way too early to be looking too far down the tunnel."
Victory played within themselves on Saturday, when goals from Terry Antonis and Troisi earned the club a 2-1 win over Newcastle.
Muscat praised all of his players for a "tremendous effort" -- just three days after a loss to Adelaide and three days before a trip to Brisbane -- but singled out recalled forward Kenny Athiu for praise.
The gangly striker, in for rested forward Kosta Barbarouses, played a delightful backheel that led to Antonis' opener.
"He contributed enormously tonight ... Kenny's touch for the first goal was outstanding," he said.