The Lowedown: Jets on flight path to top-two finish

And the beat goes on. Another day, another three points, another win while on the wrong side of the stats sheet. It's groundhog day, in a happy way.

I realise there are eight games left, and theoretically a lot can happen, but my head tells me the race for second place, and a one-off home qualifier for the grand final, is down to two contenders – the Jets and Melbourne City.

Melbourne Victory are a talented side. There is no denying that, but while they may be able, given an excellent run, to overhaul their cross-town rivals City, 11 points and a significant deficit in the for-and-against differential means reeling in the Jets is almost impossible.

Kevin Muscat's side can create, can pressure well for periods, but lack the authority of previous seasons. And while they may have shaded the general play aspect of Saturday’s contest, you always fancied the Jets could hold firm at 1-0 and up the ante in an attacking sense if they had to.

People can point to the fact that Jets keeper Jack Duncan was man of the match, but all successful teams need their keepers to preserve points at some stage through the season.

The following day, Melbourne City's Dean Bouzanis, not for the first time this season, was adjudged best on ground. Victory shotstopper Lawrence Thomas has also had his share of  blinders when his side has been under the pump.

I don't know if the presence of new Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk had an effect on the football on the weekend, but it's hard to stand up, hand on heart, and point to any virtuoso performances by eligible players on the weekend.

Dimi Petratos was serviceable and had a couple of nice moments as did James Troisi for Victory.

But on a blustery day at McDonald Jones Stadium, the reliable and resolute, rather than the flashy and creative, held sway for long periods.

The real exception was Kosta Barbarouses, whose presence probably brought about a selection change for the Jets at left back. His performance was clearly the most threatening of the wide players on show.

Unfortunately the tricky winger, as van Marwijk quickly discovered, wears the all-white strip of New Zealand and any inkling of an inspired discovery was quickly extinguished.

I have to reserve a touch of praise for Victory striker Besart Berisha, who can be so annoying for opposing fans and polarises opinion and affection.

He worked tirelessly to be the man who could turn the game for his team. He was denied at times by the brilliance of Duncan and at others by his own finishing, but not once did he stop trying to be the man to whom responsibility fell.

With that in mind, kudos to Nigel Boogaard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley in central defence, and Ben Kantarovski and Steve Ugarkovic in front of them for preserving a clean sheet . 

At the other end, Roy O'Donovan got a valuable hour into his legs, Andrew Nabbout put himself about and provided an excellent assist for Riley McGree .

It wasn't a flashy performance, functional rather than fashionable, but as the erstwhile Mr van Marwijk unequivocally noted "football is about winning".

Don't I wish I had been preaching that to you for the past 15 years or so!

The interest in van Marwijk 's attendance and initial impressions is understandable, but he will make no judgements on the contents of one game.

He will talk to people he trusts, review performances from this season and then test the levels of the A-League hopefuls against those in European leagues in an extended camp in March, where his mind will be swayed by his own observations.

If, as Tim Cahill has already advised, the  difference in level of intensity between the championship in England and the A-League is so stark, it could prove to be a tough ask for those plying their trade here to feature in Russia.

But I digress, drifting to a European summer for a moment. The Jets are enjoying a mini break of their own, courtesy of the split round due to Asian Champions League games for Australia's representatives.

Four complete days of rest have been ordered by coach Ernie Merrick. Time enough to top up energy reserves and recharge batteries, but too short to find anything resembling trouble in exotic locations (we hope).

Merrick will be finalising his planning for the final three months of the season: keeping players fresh, peaking in late April, but picking up enough points on the way to finish top two.

The freshen up arrives at a good time after a busy Christmas/ New Year period.

The two Melbourne clubs both play this weekend, with City hosting Sydney FC on Saturday night. The Jets will be well aware of how the land lies, when they take on the Wanderers away the following Friday.

To my way of thinking, Merrick has a number of options in attacking areas now, the choice of two quality goalkeepers and only one real area where there are any question marks. 

Merrick is a fan of Ivan Vujica, who provides excellent thrust and crossing going forward, but is also aware that opposing teams fancy their chances of getting in behind him or backing  quick, quality wingers to stand him up for pace.

The gamble of Lachlan Jackson at left back last week was calculated to nullify the pace of Barbarouses, possibly the best exponent of wing-play in the league. It didn't work. Jackson is quick, but positionally naive at fullback and was led a merry dance.

However, when Vujica came on and and Barbarouses immediately stopped him and then blew past him over 10 metres, the reason  for the gamble was apparent.

With almost all front third options now available and Jason Hoffman quite adroit at right-back, don't be surprised to see Daniel Georgievski enter calculations at left back, depending on opponents. 

And if that is the only area causing you any slight headaches when you are sitting comfortably second with eight games of the season left, things are pretty rosy.

TIGHT CONTEST: Ben Kantarovski attempts to block a Kosta Barbarouses pass in the Jets' 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory. Picture: Darren Pateman (AAP)

TIGHT CONTEST: Ben Kantarovski attempts to block a Kosta Barbarouses pass in the Jets' 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory. Picture: Darren Pateman (AAP)