Nigro embracing opportunities to play with Victory set to rotate squad for FFA Cup

Melbourne Victory defender Stefan Nigro isn’t quite sure what to expect from Perth Glory in their FFA Cup meeting on Wednesday evening, but he’s nonetheless embracing an opportunity to state his case for more minutes in a competitive hitout. 

Victory’s Tony Popovic-era got off to a winning start on Saturday evening; downing Western United 1-0 in Geelong to kick their 2020-21 A-League Men (ALM) campaign with three points.

The club’s next ALM game will be against Brisbane Roar on Sunday afternoon at AAMI Park but, before they can get to coach Warren Moon’s side, they will need to face Perth Glory in a midweek FFA Cup Round of 32 playoff in Adelaide. 

Already delayed due to COVID-19 related restrictions — the winner will still need to play a Round of 32 game against Adelaide City — the game has been forced into the neutral City of Churches due to West Australian border restrictions making it impossible for Victory to enter the state, play the game, and return for their next fixture within the required window.  

In light of the short turnaround, it is understood that none of the XI that started in Victory’s win against United — nor injured Josh Brillante — will make the flight to Adelaide; the fixture looming as an opportunity for the likes of Will Wilson, Lleyton Brooks, and Birkan Kirdar to establish their bonafides and a chance for the Marco Rojas and Robbie Kruse to build form and fitness.  

For his part, Nigro made a six-minute cameo on Saturday — replacing Jason Davidson in the 84th minute — and is welcoming the opportunity to demonstrate what he can do in a competitive context. 

“For everyone that gets an opportunity, first and foremost, it’s a Cup match, a one-off game and you want to impress the boss,” he said. 

“But it’s also for the boys that are getting chances to play and to cement a spot moving forward.

“It’s been a bit of a short turnaround, so we’ve analysed the game against Western and focused on the key areas of improvement for tomorrow night. It’s a Cup match, it’s a one-off game, we want to go there and progress to the next round.”

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For Nigro, the nascent ALM campaign represents his second stint in navy blue; the right-back signing a three-year deal with the club after exiting Central Coast Mariners during the offseason. 

Coming up through Victory’s youth system, he made his senior debut under Kevin Muscat during the 2015/16 season and was part of its championship-winning side in 2017-18 before then leaving for Brisbane Roar. Released after just nine games in Queensland, however, he would return to Victoria and NPL side Green Gully in 2020, only for that season to be cut short due to COVID-19. 

Backing himself, he would go so far as to quarantine for two weeks in Darwin to simply trial with the Mariners before eventually earning a contract and starting 26 games as Alen Stajcic’s side shocked ALM with a magical finals run. 

Tony Popovic got off to a winning start in his first game at Melbourne Victory
Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

“I’ve been away for a couple of years now” Nigro reflected. 

“I think when the opportunity arose to come to Victory it was an easy decision. I played my youth football here, won a championship here at 21 and to play under [Popovic] was something that I was really, really excited to do. So, for me, it was an easy decision. 

“The main thing [that has changed] is personnel. Overall with the club, their ambition is to win titles and win trophies in whatever competition we’re playing in — so that remains the same. It’s mainly personnel. 

“I think in the changeroom I’ve played with Jason Geria, played with Broxy [Leigh Broxham], [Matt] Acton, Marco [Rojas]… it’s pretty much a completely different squad and coaching staff. 

“[There is competition for places] in the small details in everything we do. From warmups, to every drill in training, to the games we play in the end. There’s no day that people can take it easy. Everyone wants to play: we’ve got a big squad and a lot of depth. 

“So it’s being the best you can every day and playing within the team structures and having positive energy and being the best possible player you can be every day. Eventually, you’ll get your chance — the boys tomorrow night will get the chance to show what they can do.

“The changeroom itself, we’re a very tight bunch of boys. On Saturday when we scored that winning goal, everyone on the bench was happy. And after the game you could see us all with the fans, everyone is getting around each other. 

“That’s the culture and environment the boss has implemented. We’ve all bought into it and I’m happy for everyone that played most of the game on the weekend.”

Like Victory, Glory are expected to send a heavily depleted squad to Adelaide for Wednesday evening’s game; coach Richard Garcia indicating after their 1-1 draw with Adelaide United on the weekend that “we’ll split the squad, send one group to Adelaide and the others will fly into Melbourne”. 

That almost certainly means that there will be no Daniel Sturridge, Bruno Fornaroli, or Brandon O’Neill for Nigro and his teammates to worry about come kickoff, and the defender admits he’s not really sure what to expect from what will be a very young Glory outfit. 

“We’re focused on what we can control, the way we want to play, and whatever is put out in front of us I’m sure we’ll do a good job,” he explained.

“t’s been a short turnaround. We’ve analysed the game against Western and we’re going to be taking that into tomorrow night.” 

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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