Melbourne Victory's performance against Wellington, particularly in the second half, was a step up on what they had been producing in several earlier games.
But they have yet to click into gear.
They are too reliant on captain Ola Toivonen for goals and creative input in the final third of the pitch.
Ola Toivonen has been Victory’s best so far this season.Credit:AAP
Elvis Kamsoba works hard and shows flashes, but there is as yet not enough end product.
The midfield – which in Sunday's 1-1 draw with the Phoenix was comprised of Migjen Basha, Jakob Paulsen and Leigh Broxham – is defensively sound, but stolid and lacking verve in forward areas.
Coach Marco Kurz cannot get Tim Hoogland, an experienced defender who can play out from the back, nor Robbie Kruse, a skilful, clever forward, nor Andrew Nabbout, the Socceroos frontman, back from injury quickly enough.
Of that trio only Nabbout, injured since the round three win over Brisbane, looks likely to make a speedy return.
Victory were up against it on Sunday evening after the controversial awarding of a second-minute penalty against Toivonen for a handball from an early Wellington corner.
"The first half was really hard after we conceded a goal. It was not a good performance," said Kurz.
"But the second half was much better, we played with a lot of pressure."
Victory have only five points from their first five games and are already eight points behind table-topping Melbourne City and five behind Western United, who are second.
"The good thing in Australia is that it's not important to finish on the top but to reach the finals," Kurz said, somewhat ironically.
His team is not playing yet in the style he wants but he cannot fault their commitment.
"At the moment it's very important to have a good attitude to the pitch. We saw a very good game in Brisbane for 90 minutes and a good second half today.
"At the moment we miss quality … the rest is coming. If you have a good attitude, good body language, performance is coming.
"The first half wasn't good but we have chances."
Toivonen rescued a point with a good individual goal in the second half, and Kurz paid tribute to his star player's mentality.
"Ola is good, he trained only twice with the team because of the ankle injury against Western United and he was not 100 per cent sure if he could start or not."
The game against Sydney will provide a serious test for Kurz's depleted squad, and fringe players and youngsters will likely get the chance to impress.
There has been growing criticism of Victory's offseason recruitment, particularly from the club's always demanding fan base, but how much of that can be sheeted back to Kurz?
He was offered the job in late June and has had to try to rebuild a title-chasing squad that lost several of its key players before he even joined.
Since last season captain Carl Valeri has retired, attacking midfielder James Troisi has joined Adelaide United –Kurz's former club – Terry Antonis has gone to South Korea, Keisuke Honda left and Kosta Barbarouses departed to join Sydney.
One, never mind all of those, would be big boots to fill.
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