Steve Kean targeting strong end of season for Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory caretaker coach Steve Kean believes his side are heading in the right direction as they welcome back a host of veteran talent to bolster efforts to shrug off three straigh defeats and finish strong in 2020-21. 

Victory downed 3-1 by Macarthur FC last Friday evening, Perth Glory’s subsequent 5-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers means the four-time A-League champions are now mathematically unable to finish any higher than 11th in 2020-21; the biggest carrots remaining the avoidance of a first-ever wooden spoon and the lowest ever points total in club history (23 points in 2019-20). 

Efforts to secure these somewhat demure prizes will continue on Wednesday evening when they travel to take on Sydney FC in the season’s final Big Blue. The two sides last met just three weeks ago, with Sydney forced to battle for a 1-0 win in what was Kean’s second game in charge after taking over following the ouster of Grant Brebner.  

The former Blackburn Rovers boss experienced a positive start to life at the helm on the results front, taking four points from his opening three games, but while the play may have been promising, his side’s defeat to Macarthur marked their third on the bounce since. 

In a league without promotion and relegation, the door would ostensibly now be open for Kean to begin to experiment and/or swell his playing ranks with prospects from Victory’s academy in the coming weeks. 

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The 53-year-old, though, is remaining steadfast in his desire to continue to pursue results and secure as many points as possible in his side’s remaining four games, with a number of veterans set to come straight back into his XI for the game against the Harboursiders.   

“We want to try and win games,” he said on Tuesday. 

“We feel as though we’re going in the right direction. 

“The fans will probably see some younger players [against Sydney]: Nishan [Velupillay] will travel with the group this week and probably play at some stage. We’ll put some younger players on the park. 

“The senior ones that are coming back that we’ve missed, they’ll go back [in] and are tried and tested. We’ll just try and get results. 

“We feel as though they’re coming and we feel as though we can get some before the end. 

“We’re getting Adama [Traore] back. We’ve also had a good result in getting Nick Ansell back and also Callum McManaman. So we’re looking good. 

“Great to be able to add players with that quality back into the squad.

“The one that we’re not 100% sure on [starting] is Callum because he’s been out for a bit with his ankle. He trained well today, we’ll make sure there’s no adverse response overnight, that there’s no swelling and if all is well he’ll start the game. 

“I think he’ll probably be able to last most of the game but 90 [minutes] is probably a stretch. But then we’ve got young Lleyton Brooks and we’ve got Nishan Velupilay, whose done really well in the last week to ten days training with us, so maybe he’ll get an opportunity later in the game.”

Replacing an injured Robbie Kruse 24 minutes in against Macarthur – Kean saying the former Socceroo was still having multiple scans to determine the extent of his malady but that he hoped to have him back before the end of the campaign – Brooks set up Victory’s goal against the Bulls when his shot careened off the post and out to Elvis Kamsoba to fire home. 

However, he was then substituted off for Birkan Kirdar in the 82nd minute of the contest. 

According to Kean, it was a substitution made with the management of the youngster’s fitness in mind. 

“For a young boy who is just starting his career and trying to back up games, he’s played very well but he probably came on a little bit earlier than we would have wanted him to come on,” Kean said. 

“Just looking at him he was struggling physically. What I really wanted to do was protect him, I don’t want to injure him. I felt he was running on empty a little bit so just take him off, protect him, freshen him up and hopefully get him on the park at some stage against Sydney. 

“If we’re backing up games every four or five days it’s difficult. It’s was nothing to do with his form or the way he was playing, it was more physically protecting his body so he could still be involved in this game.

I think [Brooks is capable of going a full 90 at a senior level] maybe once a week, but to back it up every four or five days, with the nervous energy as well with a young player starting his career and playing games and starting games, it’s difficult. 

“So I think just dipping him in and out at the right time so we can get the best out of him [is the best approach]. As he progresses and develops hopefully he can stretch and play back-to-back games and show everyone what he’s capable of.”

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Brooks has been substituted out of games four times by Kean since he took charge of Victory, 40% of the total substitutions made by the caretaker coach.

It’s an oversized proportion as, despite A-League rules allowing him up to five changes during a game and his side operating on a number of short turnarounds, the Scot is averaging just 1.66 changes per game across his six games at the helm. 

“I always think that if you’re in charge of the game and, certainly, if you’re playing away from home like we were [against Macarthur] and we’re getting 21 shots and nine corners and 51% of possession and we’re the team that’s pushing, I don’t really think there’s any need to change the game as such,” Kean said.

“If it’s working and we can feel that chances are coming, if we can feel that pressure is coming on the opposition, I don’t think there’s any need to change the game. 

“And I think anybody who has seen the full 90 minutes against Macarthur would see that we were the team that was pushing to equalise and then got done on a counterattack near the end. 

“I think the reason for making substitutions is to change something that potentially’s not working or maybe shore up a game when you’ve got the goal or you’re leading the game. It’s just whatever the game presents, we’ll make the substitutions accordingly. 

“I don’t think always just making substitutions for the sake of it, I don’t think that’s right. If you can feel that a goal is coming or you can feel that the opposition is caving in a bit, stick to it, that’s what we’ve done. 

“We really take pride after the game in doing our recovery properly, making sure that the load is managed. We look at the heart rate monitors, look at the GPS, [to] make sure that the players are fresh for each game. 

“I think sometimes when you’re chasing results you want consistency as well within the starting XI and then also getting to know that we can trust each other with and without the ball. 

“We’ll make subs if we feel that that’s necessary. If not, we’ll stick with the formula that we feel can get us a result.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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