Bottom of the A-League table and facing a difficult road test against Western Sydney Wanderers on Wednesday night, Melbourne Victory coach Grant Brebner has sent a very clear message to his playing group: perform, or else.
Making the trek North to Queensland, Victory was out-ran, out-worked and out-played by Brisbane Roar last Saturday afternoon, Warren Moon’s side riding a Dylan Wenzel-Halls strike and braces from Riku Danzaki and Scott McDonald to an all-too-easy 5-2 win.
Crashing to their third defeat of the campaign in the wake of the result, traditional heavy-hitters Victory now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of bottom of the A-League table after five games, with their minus five goal difference the worst in the competition.
Visibly struggling to contain his frustration, Brebner intimated following that defeat that Victory players that retained their place in his XI for the coming meeting with the Wanderers were going to be “fortunate”.
And speaking ahead of his side’s flight to Sydney on Tuesday, he confirmed that the conversations and meetings that had occurred between himself and his playing group upon their return to Melbourne had been very frank – and carried a very blunt message.
“This football club – I’ve been here a long time and I’ve had tough times as a player and, obviously, this is a challenging time as a coach – but one thing we will never accept, everyone connected to the club, is letting people down our members and fans,” he said.
“And we did that on the weekend. Personally and throughout the playing group, we’ve acknowledged that.
“Myself, my staff and the players need to show how much we want this football club to succeed. If that means that players are on notice, absolutely.”
Victory found themselves down 3-0 within 17 minutes against Roar, with the energy and verve of Wenzel-Halls and his orange-clad teammates cutting a visceral contrast with the disjointed and ponderous performance of their foes.
Brebner confirmed that there would be some changes to his XI for the clash with Wanderers – youngster Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio, who started and scored against Brisbane, was dropped from the squad to face Wanderers entirely – but also indicated that some players would be given one, final chance to impress before they found themselves relegated to the bench.
“We never saw [the opening exchanges] coming,” said Brebner. “When you lose two goals early it does throw the gameplan out the window.
“There are multiple excuses that the players could use, but none that I would accept. Ultimately there were areas that I’ll never accept: body language, desire, work ethic, just getting around like you want to show that you are a professional footballer.
“We were not at that level on the weekend and, thankfully, we get another opportunity to put it right.
“We’ll definitely make changes. I’m not going to acknowledge who those changes are until tomorrow night, but there will definitely be changes.
“But also, the flipside of that is that after the meetings we’ve had I want to make sure that those players that I’ve had… quite honest conversations with get the opportunity to show that they want to play for this football club.
“So they will get their opportunity to go out and show that they want to play.
“I will learn more from my squad after a 5-0 defeat in this game than I would in a 1-0 defeat. And to be honest, if I need to say or do anything after that result I don’t want those particular players at the football club.
“I definitely think we’ll see a reaction. I can’t promise it, but I certainly have put the gauntlet down.”
In more positive news for Victory fans, Brebner confirmed that Rudy Gestede would return to Victory’s squad for the trip to Sydney, and that Robbie Kruse had pulled up well from the clash with Roar.
English import Callum McManaman, however, remains on the mend after his ankle injury suffered against Adelaide United and won’t feature as part of the squad.