Mar 11, 2017 11:10:28
The ex-Tunisia international – back in the starting XI after a reported contractual standoff – was brilliant in a 4-1 win over Perth Glory
They needed some luck but Melbourne Victory reminded the rest of the A-League why they are Sydney FC's main rivals for the championship on Saturday.
Victory coach Kevin Muscat recalled Fahid Ben Khalfallah to the starting line-up and the ex-Tunisia international played a key role as the Big V's impressive front four inspired a 4-1 win over Perth Glory at AAMI Park.
Each member of Victory's attacking quartet – Besart Berisha, Marco Rojas, James Troisi and Ben Khalfallah – got on the scoresheet.
In his first start since a reported contractual standoff with Victory, Ben Khalfallah scored the hosts' second goal and set up the third, and the 34-year-old received a standing ovation when he was substituted with 13 minutes remaining.
While Glory were incensed they missed out on two first-half spot-kicks – and replays showed the visitors' frustration was justified – Victory's four goals took them past Sydney as the A-League's best attacking side of 2016-17.
Kevin Muscat's side have scored 48 goals in 23 matches this season, two ahead of the Sky Blues, while Glory are third with 44.
It is that attacking threat that sets second-placed Victory apart from the likes of Melbourne City, Brisbane Roar and Perth.
Muscat's men ensured Sydney must wait until at least Round 24 to secure the Premier's Plate and emphasised that they're the most likely to beat the A-League leaders in a grand final even though they have lost all three Big Blues this term.
Victory had Glory pinned back early in Saturday night's match but it was the visitors who opened the scoring.
Diego Castro thumped the ball past Lawrence Thomas in just the fifth minute after Victory's goalkeeper had palmed Adam Taggart's initial header away, with the Spanish forward notching his 10th goal of the season.
Glory should have had a spot-kick before the home side drew level with Victory captain Carl Valeri hauling Andy Keogh down in the box at a corner.
Berisha equalised from Rojas' set-piece in the 23rd minute with a glancing header to take his overall A-League tally to 99.
Perth were again denied a penalty in the 36th minute when Castro was tripped just inside the box by Nick Ansell.
Berisha then created Victory's second goal with a brilliant piece of skill three minutes before half-time, juggling Jason Geria's throw-in before volleying a cross to the back post where Ben Khalfallah rose highest to score.
Victory took control of the match soon after the break with Ben Khalfallah releasing Rojas down the left as part of a rapid counterattack and the Kiwi winger cut inside Marc Warren to expertly curl his shot home.
After a very even first half, the hosts took control in the second period and Troisi wrapped up an emphatic win in the 73rd minute with well-placed shot from just outside the box.
If Glory had been awarded two penalties, this match could have been much different but in the end the final score underlined why Perth have conceded 17 more goals than Victory this season.
With the best attack in the A-League and the second best defence, the Big V will be formidable in the finals.