Melbourne Vic grind three points away to Gold Coast

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The Sunday afternoon Hyundai A-League fixture between Gold Coast United and Melbourne Victory kicked off in a virtually empty stadium thanks to Clive Palmer’s reinstatement of season five’s farcical “crowd cap”.

United is set to sell Shane Smeltz to Turkish Super Lig side Genclerbirligi in the next week whilst they look to complete the signing of Bruce Djite, who may return after a frustrating spell in Turkish domestic football in which first team chances have come at a premium.

Ex-Manchester United right back John Curtis made his debut for a different United side whilst Melbourne Victory made one change to their 3-4-3 formation as Grant Brebner replaced the oft-injured Tom Pondeljak.

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The young, pacey front two of Gol Gol Mebrahtu and Ivorian Adama Traore, would attempt to give Melbourne Victory’s porous defence another long day.

Melbourne settled first with marginally better quality of possession in the opening ten before some dynamic play from James Brown resulted in a corner being won by United. Captain Culina sliced the ball directly to his advancing deputy Thwaite who headed strongly but Victory ‘keeper Michael Petkovic had it well covered.

On 19 minutes Melbourne Victory had their first clear chance of the sunny Queensland afternoon. Costa Rican midfielder Carlos Hernandez, won the ball strongly from Traore and Culina and distributed it to Brebner. Brebner found Surat Sukha who released Hernandez in space who had been forgotten by Culina, whilst off to the latin libero’s left, a fit-again Robbie Kruse dashed into space. Hernandez, not missing a beat, exposed twin towers Djulbic and Rees’ lack of pace with an incisive pass through the heart of the United defence to Kruse, who rounded Glen Moss and slotted home from an acute angle. Melbourne 1-0.

From the restart, United’s James Brown spurned a golden chance six yards out following a teasing cross from Jason Culina with a poor first touch that would have seen United equalise immediately.

A mazy run by Mate Dugandzic, who moments earlier received a yellow for a Thierry Henry style handball when bearing down on United’s goal, found Kruse who chipped to a rampant Hernandez who beat the offside trap thanks to a stray Curtis and squared the ball to dual advancing Victory strikers only to be thwarted by Glen Moss on 22 minutes.

Gold Coast then had some good moments through Anderson, Culina and Traore down United’s left, exposing Surat Sukha on a few occasions in the first half.

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United had two great chances as Dino Djulbic played James Brown in from centre-half whose cross was missed by everybody but Culina. The Socceroo then provided Traore some room who crossed to find Mebrahtu, who with the best vertical leap in the league, headed just wide of Petkovic’s open goal from close range. Mebrahtu, who was signed by Miron Bleiberg after seeing him training on his own in a park, will surely not get a better chance to score a Hyundai A-League goal.

But this chance ignited United as Traore hit a fifty yard cross-field pass which was taken first time by Culina on the volley who made a horizontal Petkovic work very hard with a sensational shot across the face of goal that was bending and dipping in, as the game approached the half hour mark.

Carlos Hernandez had fantastic free kick fly narrowly over the bar soon afterwards as the Victory began to regain the ascendancy in the match.

At the restart an injury to Mebrahtu, who picked up knock to his ankle late in the first half in a Roddy Vargas challenge, allowed 18 year old Ben Halloran a debut in the Hyundai A-League. His first feel of the ball in top flight football put Brown into space in the box but another heavy first touch snuffed out the attack.

Halloran’s second foray released Traore who blazed across the face of goal as the Victory began to show signs that the most successful A-League club would have to work hard for their first win of the season.

But the Victory began to assert themselves again on 55 minutes with substitute Diogo Ferreira linking up well with Hernandez to win a corner, after youth player Ferreira’s shot was deflected over the bar.

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The Gold Coast, who scrambled well in the previous raid, panicked from the corner allowing Leigh Broxham to come close as he awkwardly attempted to chest in Kevin Muscat’s bounce pass into the box allowed by a poor United clearance.

As the afternoon shadows grew longer, both sides traded blows in a scrappy arm wrestle that characterised the fixture with neither side able to win the battle in a crowded midfield that Miron Bleiberg did little to change.

This was punctuated periodically by searching cross field passes by Jason Culina that picked out advancing wingers and providing in the process a different point of incursion into the Victory lines. It was little comfort for Gold United though as the ball remained stuck, playing directly into Ernie Merrick’s plans.

As full time was blown the Victory will be pleased by being able to grind out the 3 points away from home against a confident youthful side brimming with talent. United can be pleased with the display although the quality of their possession was a little lacking at times.

Melbourne Victory face the Central Coast next weekend in the Friday night match whilst Gold Coast United will oddly have their second bye of the five round old season.

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