Marco Rojas scored a brace as Melbourne Victory defeated the Newcastle Jets 3-2 in a shootout at AAMI Park on Friday
|By PADDY HIGGS
Melbourne Victory finished 2012 on a winning note after surviving a comeback from the Newcastle Jets to win 3-2 on Friday.
It was Marco Rojas who was the match-winner, with the New Zealand international claiming a superb double either side of an Archie Thompson goal.
Ruben Zadkovich and Emile Heskey struck for the brave Jets, but they were to go home empty handed.
Forced defensive changes for both sides hinted at an open match at AAMI Park, and it did not disappoint.
As expected, Victory coach Ange Postecoglou opted for Leigh Broxham - a defensive midfielder by trade, measuring just 169cm - in the centre of defence alongside teenager Nick Ansell.
Jonathan Bru and Matthew Foschini also came in for the hosts, while the Jets had their own defensive change in the form of Josh Mitchell, who came in for the rested Scott Neville.
Perhaps with the alterations in mind, the teams wasted little time probing the other's defence. The first 10 minutes were filled with well-crafted moves that only ended with well-timed interceptions from a defender.
On 17 minutes, Newcastle's James Virgili crossed with pace and precision to a fast-arriving Craig Goodwin, but he could not keep a header down.
A minute later, Marco Rojas' curling ball from wide on the right took a touch off Dominik Ritter before falling into Archie Thompson's pass.
Presented with Victory's best chance of the match so far, Thompson was not able to get it past alert Jets goalkeeper Mark Birighitti.
Virgili meanwhile appeared the most likely conduit for a Jets goal, giving Adama Traore early headaches at left-back and impressing with his crossing.
But Victory's defence - with Broxham answering every test asked of him - kept the Jets at bay.
In the 25th minute, Thompson combined with stand-in Victory captain Marcos Flores to place the ball into the path of Rojas, who was bundled over by Sam Galloway as he burst into the area.
Ignoring the Victory fans baying for a red card, referee Kris Griffiths-Jones - after consulting with his assistant - presented the Jets' right-back with a yellow instead.
As the half wore on, the Jets' patience began to fade with several of Griffiths-Jones' decisions.
Their frustrations would have been amplified when, soon after another free-kick was awarded to Traore, Rojas collected the ball on the left, evaded a Galloway challenge and unleashed a powerful, floating shot that evaded the outstretched Birighitti for the opener on 33 minutes. It was something special from a player who had hinted at it much of the match.
Having headed just wide on 44 minutes, Thompson had to wait just one minute for his goal, as Billy Celeski and Rojas combined for the Australia international to stroke home under little pressure and make it 2-0.
Newcastle threatened when Emile Heskey headed over from a corner, but it was a rare chance for for the former England international in the first half.
The Jets went close again after the break when Broxham was needed to clear off the line after Virgili got on the end of a flicked Heskey header, while at the other end Thompson hit the side netting when pushed wide from the counter-attack.
Soon after, Ryan Griffiths drew a save from Victory goalkeeper Nathan Coe with a header from another Heskey flick.
Victory continued their knack of hitting the Jets on the break, only for both Thompson and then Gui Finkler to somehow not find the back of the net.
But the Jets had not played poorly and got both reward and hope on 64 minutes, as Zadkovich drove a skidding ball inside Coe's right-hand post from well outside the area.
And a share of the points was within their grasp when, after Victory failed to clear their lines on 73 minutes, Heskey poked home to make it 2-2.
It was not to be, however. And it was Rojas again who struck, seizing on a half-chance after both Flores and Finkler worked it forward to lash a superb volley home.
It was nearly 4-2 when substitute Andrew Nabbout sent a shot careening just over Birighitti's crossbar, and Thompson then forced a neat save from Birighitti in the 85th minute.
Jets substitute Adam Taggart drew a reflex save from Nathan Coe three minutes later as Newcastle again dreamed of leaving Melbourne with something.
But it was not to be, as Victory moved within two points of second-placed Adelaide United, while the Jets finish their year on seventh.