Report: Gestede towers over all as Victory move off the bottom of A-League table

Melbourne Victory: 2 (Rudy Gestede 45+3, 49)
Wellington Phoenix: 0 

Melbourne Victory has clawed their way off the bottom of the A-League table, and sent Wellington Pheonix there in their place, after downing the Kiwi side 2-0 at AAMI Park on Wednesday evening. 

Making just his second start for the club, Rudy Gestede proved the hero for the hosts; the big attacker rising highest to meet two Jake Brimmer corners on either side of the half-time break to secure his side a vital three points. 

Indeed, just days after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle Jets in the first fixture of a five-game homestand and foundation investor Richard Wilson quit the club’s board and slammed its strategic direction, it’s difficult to overstate just how important this win was to the four-time A-League champions. 

As well as lifting them from the bottom of the table, the result alleviates – albeit in likely temporary fashion – some of the crushing pressure that was bearing down on coach Grant Brebner after his side’s woeful start to 2020-21 as he looks ahead to the season’s second ‘Battle of the Bridge’ at Marvel Stadium on Saturday evening. 

“It’s been a tough few weeks for everybody at the club,” Brebner said post-game “And there’s been nobody more united than the people inside the four walls of the change room and the staff. We were desperate for that win but it’s something now that we hope can carry a little bit of momentum for us. Because while it’s great to get the win we need to back it up again this weekend.

“I don’t get too down when we lose, it’s something you have to deal with and it’s something that’s been really tough and I’m certinally not going to get carried away with winning tonight. It’s what we get paid to do: win football games.

“My relationship with the players is obviously professional but it’s one where I do have a lot of individual time, I spend a lot of time with players and get to know them. That’ll always be the case.”

Led by Leigh Broxham, Victory gathered in a tight huddle on the AAMI Park surface following the win.

For Ufuk Talay, however,  2020-21 continues to be a season to forget. A year on from becoming the darlings of the A-League with their attractive play and a strong cast of characters, the ‘Nix sit outright bottom of the A-League table after eight games – with a number of the sides they are chasing holding games in hand over them. 

They will now return to New South Wales to take on the suddenly resurgent Newcastle Jets on Sunday afternoon in the Hunter. 

“I think if there’s an award for a team that can get into the box and not score I think we’d win that in the games we’ve played this season,” Talay said. “And if there was an award for allowing cheap goals from set pieces we’d win that as well.

“I thought we played some good football, we got ourselves into good areas, we had 18 shots but we only had one on target and that’s where you get the result from.

“It’s comes down to the attributes of the players, a bit of finesee and a bit of quality in the final third, we get into good areas and we don’t capitalise on our opporuntities.

“And on the [defensive] side of things, is it a focus thing? I’m not too sure. We conceded two goals from set-pieces but other than that I think Oli [Phoenix keeper Oliver Sail] made a save with his feet in the first half, a couple that went straight at him, but other than that we were quite comfrotable.

“We had a lot of the ball but, like I said, I think if there’s an award for getting in the final third but not scoring I think we’d win it.”

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It wasn’t all good news for Victory, though, as, belying the positive result to come, proceedings started disastrously.

Already without the services of first-choice defenders Storm Roux, Nick Ansell and Adama Traore through injury,  on-loan defender Dylan Ryan was forced off with a knee injury in just the fifth minute of play and, emerging later in the first half on crutches, appears set for a lengthy stint on the sidelines. 

20 minutes later, Marco Rojas was forced from the field with a suspected ankle injury after being brought down by a Mirza Muratovic challenge seven minutes earlier, and English centre-back Ryan Shotton was withdrawn at half-time.

Rojas remains a chance of suiting up against Western on Saturday evening, although Brebner didn’t expect Ryan or Shotton to be available.

Brebner had been relying on the attacker, alongside Gestede, Robbie Kruse and Callum McManaman, to supercharge his attack in the must-win contest: Wednesday night representing the first occasion that the foursome had taken the field together. 

Yet despite the loss of the New Zealand international, Victory’s plans didn’t look too interrupted in the first half; Gestede looming as a key figure in Victory’s thursts against the ‘Nix – who were without the services of first-choice centre-back Luke DeVere through injury. 

The four-time champions looked to get the ball into the 193cm tall striker early and often, either to knock an aerial ball down to one of his smaller teammates, hold the ball up and lay it off to an overlapping player or, if he was in the penalty area, to get his head on crosses and direct them goalward. 

“Our number nine gets two goals, service from the wide area… that’s why what we brought Rudy here for, it’s why we got Callum, it’s why we’ve got Marco and Robbie in behind, so that was one of the pleasing aspects of tonight,” Victory’s coach said post-game.

Demonstrating the latter, the Benin international forced a strong save from Sail in just the seventh minute of play when he was found by McManaman, with the ‘Nix custodian just able to punch the ball clear with a single paw as it headed towards the far post. 

It wasn’t exactly pretty football, and Victory didn’t dominate, but it did help give them a purpose in possession that had been so lacking in their opening games of the season. 

A magnificent cross-field ball from Kruse sprung McManaman to have a shot that Sail cleared in the 38th minute of play before the latter created his own shot a minute later when he weaved around a number of defenders and shot from range: forcing another save from Sail. 

Eventually, however, the custodian could no longer keep Victory’s gigantic number nine at bay, and the 32-year-old’s first and second goal in a Victory shirt on either side of the half gave his manager some much-needed peace of mind; as was evident in the massive group celebration on the bench that marked the first. 

“Rudy came here to score goals, he’s had a frustrating time of it,” said Brabner. “So for him to come on, score two goals as a striker it’s obviously a good return and he’s one that needs to continue that.”

Wellington’s Mexican star Ulises Dávila tried to get his side going in the 56th minute when he went on a winding run and worked the ball to Reno Piscopo for a cross, only for Alex Rufer to send his subsequent effort from the top of the box over the bar. 

Piscopo then tried to do it himself a minute later when he drove down the right and sent in a stinging shot, only for Max Crocombe to get down low in the Victory goal and make the save. 

Sitting on a two-goal cushion, the hosts began to sit back and play on the counter as the contest entered its final stages; seeking to protect their two-goal lead and second-win of the season. 

And while the extra time and space on the ball did allow Wellington to begin to poke and probe in an increasingly dangerous manner, they proved unable to break the now very young Victory defence of Zayden Bello, Anderson, Leigh Broxham and Dalibor Markovic: Victory fans singing out “We’re not fu**ing last” as referee Shaun Evans blew his whistle. 

Yet, indicating that there is still a lot of tension to be found at AAMI Park despite the win, chants of “Anthony Di Pietro [Victory chairman], get out of our club” also rang out as the game entered injury time.

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Melbourne Victory

Starting XI: Max Crocombe (GK), Ryan Shotton, Leigh Broxham, Callum McManaman, Rudy Gestede, Robbie Kruse, Birkan Kirdar, Dylan Ryan, Jake Brimmer, Marco Rojas, Dalibor Markovic

Subs: Matthew Acton (GK), Jacob Butterfield, Jay Barnett, Aaron Anderson, Elvis Kamsoba, Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio, Zayden Bello

Coach: Grant Brebner 

Wellington Phoenix

Starting XI: Oliver Sail, Liam McGing, James McGarry, Tim Payne, Reno Piscopo, Cam Devlin, Ulises Dávila, Alex Rufer, Mirza Muratovic, Louis Fenton, Ben Waine
Subs: Stefan Marinovic, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Mathew Ridenton, Charles Lokoli Ngoy, Sam Sutton, Josh Laws, Clayton Lewis
Coach: Ufuk Talay
Referee: Shaun Evans VAR: Kris Griffiths-Jones

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