Sorry Victory on precipice after Shanghai smashing
MELBOURNE Victory's 2018 Asian Champions League campaign is already on the brink after two games.
And the pressure on the under-performing A-League club is set to ratchet up even further after Tuesday night's harrowing 4-1 loss to Shanghai SIPG.
Victory has now failed to win in 17 overseas Champions League trips.
And although it was always going to be a tough ask to win in Shanghai against the big-spending Chinese giant, the manner of the defeat still stung.
Victory started brightly enough, following on from coach Kevin Muscat's vow not to take a backwards step in Shanghai.
But once the hosts got the opener courtesy of a controversial penalty there only ever looked like being one winner.
And, Victory can count itself lucky the margin of defeat wasn't even greater.
The Shanghai stars shone, with former Chelsea star Oscar scoring a second half double and his Brazilian teammate Hulk netting the opener, with gun Chinese winger Wu Lei scoring the other.
Without a league game to play last weekend Victory was able to arrive in China a day earlier than it has historically been able to for ACL away games.
But it made little difference as the A-League's fifth-placed team was made to look second-rate by the side that finished second to Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League last year.
Coach Muscat was already under the pump, but there will be more question marks as to why he waited until the 64th minute to make a change despite being 3-0 down.
And when he did make a switch it was a defender on for a defender, with Thomas Deng replacing Jason Geria after Geria endured the most torrid of nights on the right side of defence.
And while Besart Berisha scored a consolation penalty in the 69th minute, the legendary striker also had another poor night at the office. His positioning came under fire after he was flagged for offside on several crucial occasions - not least when he was able to score off a low Geria cross in the first half, only for the strike to be chalked off.
Despite conceding three goals at home last week to Ulsan Hyundai, Muscat still deployed the same line-up on Tuesday night.
The team now has just a four day break - and a long-haul flight - before taking on Adelaide United at AAMI Park in what is a crucial domestic clash on Saturday night.
Ulsan defeated Kawasaki Frontale in the other Group F game on Tuesday night, meaning Victory is in third place after two games.
Shanghai is top on six points, Ulsan second on four and Victory has one, with Kawasaki last.
SIPG also went in unchanged after its 1-0 away win against Kawasaki last week.
The match was also Leigh Broxham's 300th in Victory colours in all competitions.
Victory was excellent early on, pinning Shanghai back and creating a few great openings.
Broxham, Terry Antonis and Leroy George all went close to scoring in the first quarter of an hour.
But when Hulk found Elkeson in the 13th minute, who flashed just wide with a wonderful volley, the reminder was there of the potency the hosts possessed.
And slowly but surely Shanghai turned the screws.
Geria was penalised contentiously in the 26th minute when Lei fired a cross straight into his left hand just inside the penalty box.
Hulk converted from the spot.
Lei scored with a fantastic header in the 41st minute, sending the hosts to the break 2-0 up, before Oscar made it three within 90 seconds of the restart, taking advantage of a poor defensive clearance by Geria.
The Brazilian's curling strike in the 77th minute was all class, restoring the three-goal margin after Berisha's penalty eight minutes earlier.
Victory plays Kawasaki away in its next ACL match on March 7 which is now looming as a must-win encounter for both sides.