An entertaining game that will be remembered for two stunning strikes from Marco Rojas rather than for the tactical battle. As it were, this was a strange game with little overall pattern, so here are ten observations.
1. The biggest talking point pre-match was the battle between the towering Emile Heskey and Leigh Broxham, who was deployed in a completely unfamiliar centre-back position to cover for the absence of Adrian Leijer and Mark Milligan. Newcastle has shown a tendency to play towards Heskey’s physique too quickly, but here was a very clear insistence on playing out from the back here. They rarely played long – bar the final desperate few minutes – meaning Heskey’s build up play was more about receiving passes to feet before spreading the play wide.
2. Instead, Newcastle exploited Melbourne’s obvious weakness at the back by crossing from wider, deeper positions, aiming balls towards the centre of the penalty area. To complement this, the winger on the opposite flank would make a late run into the area, and Craig Goodwin should have done better from that exact kind of opportunity.
3. There was also an obvious focus from the away side on isolating Adama Traore up against James Virgili down the right, as Archie Thompson stayed high up the pitch and provided little defensive protection. Both have been in good form in recent weeks – and the latter was outstanding against Sydney – but it was the Ivorian who ‘won’ the battle. Immediately after the opening goal, Goodwin and Virgili switched flanks, and this became less of a trend.
4. The Victory does have an interesting weakness when defending cut-backs towards the edge of the penalty area. This is because the midfielders can be drawn across into wide areas to cover for the advanced positioning of the wingers, and because they vacate the centre, there is obvious space for midfield runners to burst into – Virgili wasted a good opportunity when Ruben Zadkovich dragged Jonathon Bru out to the wing, before cutting it back quickly towards the centre. This isn’t a new trend – Fred completely mishit a chance created from exactly this kind of opportunity in the Melbourne Derby.
5. From a Victory perspective, their best attacks came from quick passes from one end to the other, and their second goal originated from a rapid sequence triggered by Broxham’s clever pass to Flores, who immediately played Rojas in over the top. It was a classic ‘Postecoglou Victory’ goal, and the instinctive understanding between the provider and the scorer remains their biggest threat. Despite being nominal ‘wide’ players, Thompson and Rojas account for the vast majority of Victory shots – here, they tallied eight of their side’s fourteen – and were the only two to have shots on target.
6. Newcastle kept a defined 4-2-3-1 shape throughout the match, with Ryan Griffiths playing just behind Heskey. This meant the roles in the midfield battle were clear – Brillante v Celeski, and Zadkovich v Bru, and the Newcastle players were aggressive and moved forward quickly to close down their opponent. That meant a Jets centre-back had to move out of his line to close down Flores or Finkler, who would quickly play the ball in behind for one of the wide forwards, as occurred in the build-up for Gallaway’s yellow.
7. Sam Gallaway’s first start in two years came last week against Sydney FC – he acquitted himself well in that fixture, but was poor here, and he continually struggled to contain the diagonal runs of both Thompson and Rojas, most evidently when he received a yellow for fouling the latter just outside the area. His biggest problem was that he was constantly beaten to the ball, as the Victory duo used their speed to dart in front and get to the ball first. In the second half, he defended narrower, closer to Chapman, and he was more comfortable defending in one-on-one confrontations rather than trying to compete in footraces.
8. Surprisingly, Van Egmond didn’t change shape despite being 2-0 down, but his side began pressing far more energetically, actively looking to close down the centre-backs and force them backwards towards Nathan Coe, who was in turn pressured to go long, and the Victory keeper only completed two successful passes in the second half. The by-effect of Newcastle’s pressure was that they had to play with a higher line, which left them exposed to quick counter-attacks, although the Victory defended much deeper than usual, which reduced the effectiveness of their transitions.
9. None of the goals weren’t directly linked to any broad tactical pattern, and more about the momentum of the game, even if the winner came completely against the run of play. Of course, you can analyse each goal in greater detail and identify what went right/wrong for either side, but in considering the overall feel and shape of the game and the formation battle, the goals feel like disparate events.
10. If Van Egmond’s goal is to modernise Newcastle and create a good passing side, this result would have been encouraging – his side ignored the temptation of a one-sided Heskey-Broxham clash and focused instead on playing out from the back. The side is certainly younger and more technical despite the Englishman’s presence, and recent weeks has seen a vast improvement in how they press from the front. Newcastle upped the tempo in the second half and were unlucky to concede two wonder-strikes.