The now traditional Melbourne Cup eve fixture saw Victory take down Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park with a business-like efficiency, running out 2-0 winners.
Injuries? Suspensions? No worries!
Having lost Besart Berisha, Adrian Leijer, Matthieu Delpierre and Daniel Georgievski in the mid-week FFA Cup loss in Perth, and facing another short-turnaround against an in-form Phoenix unit, a lapse could have been forgivable, but the opposite occurred.
Players like Rashid Mahazi, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Leigh Broxham and Mark Milligan were filling the void left in certain positions but it was hard to tell as Victory showcased it’s impressive depth.
For the first time in 22 games, a Melbourne Victory defence kept a clean sheet. Kevin Muscat must surely be tempted to keep Milligan in defence, at least until Nick Ansell reaches full fitness. The skipper’s passing range, ball-winning ability and leadership settled Victory against a side with proven goal scoring ability.
Nathan Coe showed what a good a shot-stopper he is, while Dylan Murnane and Scott Galloway put in honest shifts at full-back, illustrating just how much of a disciplined performance it was from league leaders.
Rewarded for precision and intent
Victory’s ability to attack and take risks earned them the win. While personnel and formation has changed, the attacking mentality and philosophy has not. Gui Finkler’s set-piece skills were crucial yet again for the home side – a darting ball from his special flank befuddled the visiting defence and goalkeeper Glen Moss as he aimed for an on-rushing Mark Milligan.
Connor Pain seized his opportunity off the bench to score a wonder goal, charging onto a move started by a raking cross-field ball from Kosta Barbarouses then a perfectly incisive pass from Archie Thompson to nutmeg Moss and seal the game in the process.
A side fans were waiting to see
Victory’s strengths are well-known and breathtaking when in full effect, but there are times in a season when a side is not at full-strength and that was Victory on Monday. Yet, Kevin Muscat’s men never really looked troubled or like conceding, and against a side that enjoys scoring, that is the biggest indicator yet they are Championship-material.
So far, so good
The issues with active supporters have been solved and the team is undefeated in the A-League to start the season. The club copped a pasting from many circles last season, so full credit needs to be given for identifying issues and addressing them.
The atmosphere generated by the Melbourne Cup eve 23,000-plus crowd was at its best again, generating such a buzz about the club that it looks like outgrowing AAMI Park sooner than many would have expected.
Let the good times roll.
Tried to outnumber midfield
From the outset, the visitors tried to stifle Victory’s creativity in midfield and without Milligan there, it was a fair choice of tactic by coach Ernie Merrick. For a while it worked, but they gave up too much attacking-wise to place consistent pressure on the hosts and then were held back by a Victory team that took its chances.
Without Jeremy Brockie to start the match, Mike McGlinchey and Nathan Burns were left without their partner in crime. By the time of Brockie’s introduction in the second half, it still would not click for the Nix. They fired eight shots, only one of which was on target, and only had 41% of possession, which did not help as Carl Valeri nullified much of their effectiveness in midfield.
Why didn’t Brockie start?
Merrick added an extra midfielder in Vince Lia ahead of the club’s enigmatic goalscorer, pushing Roly Bonevacia forward to try and negate Victory. The old saying about hindsight is a correct one, but changing what was a winning formula backfired on Merrick. Attack is, at times, the best mode to win games on the road and had Brockie started, perhaps the 90 minutes would have ended differently for Merrick’s men.
Forget the high line
This fixture, somewhat notoriously, has not been kind to Wellington in the past. Much of that had to do with its attacking high line which Victory tore through, but on this occasion, it was more pragmatic and organised. As a result of doing so, once again, they gave up too much to consistently attack Victory.
Setback, but still to be reckoned with
Sometimes it just doesn’t happen for a team on a certain day, and this fixture just is not kind to them. Nonetheless, they have had an impressive start to the season, looking a changed team that has recruited smartly and has played some good football. They get the chance to redeem themselves this Friday against the returning Champions of Asia, Western Sydney Wanderers.