Glory are on 51 points, five clear of Sydney and six ahead of Victory with four games remaining. The plate is theirs to lose, but if they do get the late season staggers, Muscat’s men will be relentless in chasing them down.
Joyce’s contract expires at the end of the current campaign, and City’s style is not to get rid of coaches during the season — or at least this close to the end, with just four matches remaining.
His fate will be decided by a post-season review, which will take into account a number of internal measures and judge him not just on playing results but a series of other metrics, including how much he has changed the culture at the club, one of the key performance indicators in his assessment.
But soccer is a results-based business, and City have struggled to get them in the past few months. Joyce might find himself needing to win the championship, or at the very least secure an Asian Champions League spot, to stay in situ.
City were woeful in their 3-0 defeat at the hands of a club that is itself in turmoil and had all but resigned itself to its season being over already.
This win gives the Wanderers a faint glimmer of hope that they could crash the finals party, but they would need two of City, Adelaide and Newcastle to virtually lose all their other games and to win their own to have any chance.
City must regroup quickly if they are to stay in the race themselves and they get the chance to turn things around in short order when they host Brisbane Roar, who are out of finals contention, on Friday evening.
Joyce will at least be able to welcome back his star striker Jamie Maclaren, who was forced out of Saturday night’s game with a late injury.
Maclaren sustained a concussion in training on Friday before the team flew to Sydney but is expected to be cleared for the AAMI Park clash with Roar.
The embattled coach wasn’t prepared to put his team’s poor display down to injuries and missing players — several of his first choice side had just returned from Olyroos duty where they had played three games in six days. But he did say they were mitigating circumstances.
»It’s an easy excuse [to say they were missed]. Everybody has to contend with that all the time. The frustrating one is that we’ve done quite a bit of work for a couple of weeks on understandings with Shay [Harrison] and Jamie [Maclaren] and Florin [Berenguer] hasn’t been fit either, he’s just come back at the last minute. It’s not an excuse, that’s a fact.»
It’s a different story on the other side of town, with Victory prevailing through goals from their two big name players in Perth on Saturday night. Ola Toivonen’s superb first half free kick — the 5000th goal in the A-League’s history — gave them the lead and Keisuke Honda’s second-half penalty ensured the points headed east.
It was Glory’s second home defeat of the campaign, but it might be significant from a finals perspective that those losses have come at the hands of Sydney and Victory.
«Fantastic result … I thought we played with some real courage and real heart and were good for our three points,» said Muscat.
»The huge difference was scoring first for us. I thought we defended resolutely as well so, we earnt everything we got,» he added.
Muscat restored Lawrence Thomas between the posts and was rewarded with a clean sheet but wasn’t reading too much into the scoreline as far as finals are concerned.
»You never know, do you? One thing it has done is it’s certainly opened it up in terms of excitement. With Sydney winning [against Brisbane] and obviously this result, it’s set up nicely for a run-in.
»A team that sits as we were in the second half, they were throwing a lot of men forward and we had to react, maybe it’d be one of the first times we get described with the adjectives of organised and disciplined so very happy to be organised and disciplined.»