Kean praises youngsters, but won’t start “throwing all the young boys on” in final two games

Caretaker Melbourne Victory boss Steve Kean has praised the impact of youngsters Nishan Velupillay and Lleyton Brooks in his side’s 1-0 loss to Adelaide United, but refrained from committing to start the pair in his side’s final two games.

Falling to a fifth-straight defeat against the Reds – who moved back into third with the three points earned by Craig Goodwin’s 39th-minute strike – Victory is now guaranteed to record their lowest ever points total as a club this campaign; ‘eclipsing’ the 23 they earned last year. 

Furthermore, their 17 losses in 2020-21 is now two clear of their previous low water mark – also recorded in 2019-20. 

Quickly losing interest in the dross first half play of their side against Adelaide – if they had any to begin with at this point of what has been a long, depressing season – Victory’s fans quickly began to amuse themselves on Sunday evening by re-visiting the greatest hits: chanting for figures such as Terry Antonis, Carlos Hernandez and current Western United attacker Besart Berisha. 

In a sign of their hopes for the future, the North and South Ends of AAMI Park also raised their voices in anticipation of Tony Popovic’s arrival in coming months – the 47-year-old expected to oversee a significant turnover in the club’s A-League department – and sprung to life late in the contest when Velupillay and Brooks entered the fray off the bench. 

While neither was able to provide a goal that would have arrested then four-, now five-game losing run, the two’s incisive intent and energy did provide their side with a new dimension going forward in attack – which had up to that point largely been restricted to crosses into the area intended for Rudy Gestede’s head. 

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“I think we showed in the last couple of games when we’ve introduced them later on in the game they’ve got energy,” Kean said. 

“But more than the energy, they’ve got quality and I think for Nishan Velupillay and also for Lleyton Brooks they’ve got bright futures with the club. 

“I think they just need to be given the right amount of time. 

“It’s sometimes easy to throw them on a little bit earlier, I just feel as though they have to grow into more of a space and more time on the pitch. 

“But they’ve certainly shown that they’ve got quality and I think they changed the game a little bit, changed the dimension of the game, gave good service, gave good spark and I felt those two were great.

“I think for the future of the club, the young boys that have come in have shown enough that, hopefully, they deserve to be involved at some stage next season. 

“I’ve always liked bringing young players into the team, throughout my career. I’ve always blooded young boys and many of them went on to become top players, so hopefully, the ones that have played in the last few games can go on and become top players.”

Opportunities for Velupillay and Brooks to grow into a 90-minute role with Victory this season, however, are rapidly diminishing. 

The club will play its penultimate game of the 2020-21 season this Friday when they clash with Western United – whose finals hopes themselves have all but been extinguished after a run of five straight defeats – in the latest Battle of the Bridge.

They will then finish their season when they host Melbourne City on Sunday, June 6. City has already delivered 6-0 and 7-0 thrashings to Victory this year – the latter of which cost Grant Brebner his job – but will likely be missing a number of first-choice players to Socceroos duty for that clash. 

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Kean admitted that Victory themselves are all but certain to not have Marco Rojas (broken leg) and Robbie Kruse (ankle) available for those fixtures. 

“We’ll see,” Kean said when asked if the likes of Brooks and Velupillay would see extended minutes throughout the final two games.

“I think if we’re thinking about where they would play, Callum McManaman I thought was excellent, maybe we could’ve brought on some of the younger boys at half-time but when we’re trying to win games.

“When Callum McManaman is delivering things into the box with great accuracy, he’s a senior player and we’re only here to try and win games.

“Then if we can give an opportunity to showcase some of the younger boys then we will. 

“It’s not a case of just throwing all the young boys on and throwing the senior boys away, far from it.

“[The senior players] deserve their opportunity to play and try and grind out results for us and I think they’ve squeezed every bit of energy and everything out that they’ve had in the locker.

“Then, when they’re empty, we’ll get the young boys on which overall, we would’ve been good value for at least a draw tonight. 

“It just seems to be that’s where we’re at at the moment, we’re giving it everything, we’re just not getting that little chance that maybe hits a post and goes in.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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