Melbourne Victory stormed into W-League contention on the back of Mike Mulvey’s coaching, but can they continue their form without him?
It was a fairy-tale in the making for Melbourne Victory.
When Vicki Linton resigned to join FFA just prior to the season kick-off, her successor – with just over a week to pull the team together, created a side of giant killers.
Despite losing three players to season ending knee injuries, Mike Mulvey had this side firing at exactly the right time.
Canberra United was unbeaten in more than a season until the Victory shattered their aura in round three this year. They repeated that effort in round nine when Jessica Fishlock-s late goal silenced the fans at McKellar Park and propelled Melbourne to third on the table, three points shy of top and two ahead of traditional favourites Sydney FC and the aforementioned champions.
The women were likely still celebrating their second win over Canberra
when word broke that once again, their coach was headed north of the border.
No-one can blame Mulvey for taking on the high-profile challenge of bringing Brisbane Roar back to winning ways in the A-League, but the timing is poor – from the women-s perspective at least.
Just three matches remain in the regular season and the title race is tougher than ever.
Melbourne Victory have the best defence in the league, conceding just 9 goals thus far. Their last two matches will be against Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets, who in contrast have leaked 27 and 24 goals respectively and sit bottom of the table. This week they welcome the Western Sydney Wanderers but this match will unfortunately also be the farewell game for Jessica Fishlock.
The Welsh captain answered an SOS from Mulvey in November and has been exceptional in her six week guest stint. The inspirational attacking midfielder reluctantly returns home after efforts to retain her services were unsuccessful.
The Victory are hopeful of sending her out with a win, but even if the Wanderers take the points they would still sit below Melbourne on goal difference, and the W-League newcomers then face a tough run to the finish.
The stars couldn-t have been better aligned for the Blue and White. Three days ago a betting person would have said Melbourne were almost certainties for a finals spot.
Now with the crucial point of the season upon them and their third coach in three months, are their dreams of finals victory about to turn to dust?
THE RUN HOME
With the log-jam on the ladder, this week will be telling. The Victory and the Glory are the only two sides to avoid a top six clash in the New Year.
Perth (19 points) are the other side to have a dream run home. A crucial clash at home to Canberra this weekend is followed, like Melbourne, with match ups against Newcastle(8th) and Adelaide (7th).
Brisbane (17 points) have Adelaide at home this week, then in the New Year, face Sydney FC and Canberra United.
Melbourne (16 points) welcome Western Sydney in round 10 and after the Christmas break, finish home to Adelaide and away to Newcastle.
Canberra (14 points) pay a visit to top placed Perth Glory on Saturday and end the home and away fixtures with a home match against the Wanderers and an away match in Brisbane.
Sydney FC (14 points) travel up the F3 to Newcastle on Sunday, and host Brisbane in early January before finishing with the local derby.
Western Sydney (13 points) travel to Wembley Park this week to see how the Victory have coped with the news of the past week. They open 2013 in Canberra at McKellar Park and then will be looking to balance the ledger as they host Sydney FC in the 2nd local derby of the season.
Adelaide (6 points) go to Brisbane this week, before a trip to Melbourne, then round the season off welcoming Perth Glory to Burton Park.
Newcastle (4 points) have an ominous finish to the season. While they would love to put more points on the board, matches against Sydney, Perth and Melbourne will mean a difficult end to what has been a tough season for the Jets.