Muscat slams SCG pitch after star hurt
Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat has slammed the SCG's "disgraceful" pitch that may have caused a serious injury to key player Terry Antonis, lamenting that "all the other codes treat us with contempt because we accept it ourselves".
In a cruel blow to compound Victory's at-the-death 2-1 loss to Sydney FC on Saturday night, Antonis twisted his knee awkwardly as he appeared to trip, under no contact, on the slightly raised seam of the SCG's cricket pitch in the second half.
He was helped gingerly off by medical staff and was in visible pain as he sat out the match on the bench.
The turf, which hosted an NRL match on Thursday night and where Sydney are due to host Perth Glory on April 18, was patchy and multi-coloured, rendering the entertaining full-throttle affair all the more impressive.
"That surface was not conducive to a ball rolling on it," Muscat said.
"I've never seen a surface where there's three different types of grass. In the middle it was ridiculously hard and unsafe. To ask players to come to work and work under those conditions is unacceptable.
"There might be a serious injury as a result of it. For players to go out onto that - whatever it's called - is a disgrace, and if we accept it ourselves as a code, it's part of the reason everybody else treats us with contempt.
"All the other codes treat us with contempt because we accept it ourselves. So instead of looking outside, let's look at ourselves.
"First and foremost it was dangerous, and as a code we'll just sweep it under the carpet ... it's a real indication of where we're at."
Sydney coach Steve Corica acknowledged the pitch was "not great".
"Obviously the cricket pitch is a lot harder and a different surface to the grass around it," Corica said.
"It's never nice to see a player go down with an injury and there was no one around him, and it was on the edge of the cricket pitch.
"We trained here yesterday just to make sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into."
Sydney at least have thrust themselves back into Premiers' Plate contention after Milos Ninkovic sealed the win in injury-time with his second goal of the season and second against Victory that propels them three points shy of leaders Perth Glory, who'll suddenly be feeling the heat when they travel to Central Coast today.
It also provides a timely confidence boost ahead of Wednesday's crucial Asian Champions League clash with Chinese powerhouse Shanghai SIPG.
Right up until the 93rd minute the Sky Blues were unable to capitalise on Brandon O'Neill's sixth-minute screamer, negated by Kosta Barbarouses in the 16th before the full-throttled encounter descended into a somewhat drudgerous second-half stalemate.
In contrast, Victory have lost their grip on second spot and a home final with three rounds remaining.
In terms of positive omens for Sydney, their opening goal already made for one key difference from the preceding two Big Blues, both in which Victory scored first and went on to win.
Sydney started with a bang, squeezing their visitors in a pressure-laden opening 15 minutes that very nearly bore a goal inside the first three when Adam Le Fondre turned Thomas Deng and measured his subsequent shot almost impeccably, the only blip a half-inch of crossbar no one would have been more thankful for than Lawrence Thomas' stand-in Matt Acton.
The hosts were sharp with the ball and up for the fight, O'Neill timing to perfection a sliding tackle on the halfway line to stop Barbarouses springing a counter-attack.
The fruits of that moment arrived in the very next play and to the benefit of the same player as O'Neill, lurking well outside the box, took a settling touch on Anthony Caceres' cutback and fizzed a swinging, gyrating strike off his unfavoured left foot that snuck into the top right corner.
Their tails up, the chances kept coming as Rhyan Grant skewed wide and Ninkovic skied a shot off a nicely angled cross from the Socceroos right-back, whose crucial intervention just before the break thwarted Ola Toivonen's would-be header.
Time and again Victory's lines were breached and they were unable to return the favour.
Until, that is, the 16th minute when Keisuke Honda, uncharacteristically quiet until that point, capitalised on a weak Sky Blues defensive moment and slipped the ball to Barbarouses.
The Kiwi drove forward until he was one on one with Andrew Redmayne and elegantly dinked his 14th goal of the season past the goalkeeper.
To say Barbarouses' season has been strong would be an understatement, and with 10 goals in 11 games he now sits only one shy of golden boot leaders Le Fondre and Roy Krishna.
All of a sudden Victory, so stretched early, found their rhythm and forced the issue, though still finished the first half with two shots to their opponents' 12.
The second brought midfield trench warfare, and Corica moved quickly to introduce Siem de Jong and Reza Ghoochannejhad at the expense of Alex Brosque and Caceres.
The former Dutch and Iran internationals, both so central to last week's away win over Brisbane Roar, tried to engineer an opening in Victory's composed fortress.
Again, though, Grant cut a swathe through bodies before O'Neill drawing a fine save from Acton.
Aaron Calver coughed up possession and Toivonen pounced, pulling up slightly only under pressure from Alex Wilkinson and steering his shot marginally wide.
Victory kept at it and James Troisi slid a lovely ball that put Elvis Kamsoba through, though Antonis' substitute replacement too couldn't engineer enough angle.
Then, de Jong ran into space, his cross taking a rebound and falling to Ninkovic, who ripped away a shot that took a deflection and bobbled past Acton and into the net.
SYDNEY FC 2 (Brandon O'Neill 6m, Milos Ninkovic 90+3m) bt MELBOURNE VICTORY 1 (Kosta Barbarouses16m) at Sydney Cricket Ground. Crowd: 14,155. Referee: Alex King