Victory confident of avoiding FFA Cup hangover against Phoenix

Melbourne Victory certainly enjoyed winning their first trophy since the Heist in the Hunter on Saturday evening, but coach Tony Popovic says not to expect any sort of hangover in their A-League Men (ALM) clash with Wellington Phoenix on Wednesday evening. 

Golazos from Jason Davidson and Chris Ikonomidis lifted Victory to their second FFA Cup crown and a first piece of silverware since the 2017/18 ALM toilet seat last Saturday; the strikes enough to render the late goal of Central Coast Mariner captain Oliver Bozanic moot and secure a 2-1 win. 

The first major success of the club’s new Popovic era, however, the triumphed not only represented a tangible addition but also an important psychological marker for the club and its fans that the dog days of the past two league campaigns, in which the club finished second-bottom and bottom of the league and became a laughing stock, are behind them. 

As one would expect given these circumstances, those associated with the club celebrated long and hard following the win; the ‘North End’ of Victory’s fans, in particular, putting on a show for the 15,343 fans in attendance and what was close to a record television audience that tuned in for Channel 10. 

Any hopes that coach Ufuk Talay and his ‘Nix might hold that their foes on Wednesday would be arriving in a somewhat dusty state, though, would appear to be misplaced. 

“We obviously enjoyed it and we had a function with the whole club and it was an enjoyable night,” Popovic said on Tuesday. “We celebrated as we should. We had a recovery, a light day on Sunday and then now we’re ready to go for the next game.

Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic
Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

“We celebrated winning the cup without thinking about what’s happening on Wednesday, as you should, we spent two or three hours together here at the stadium, and we all enjoyed it.

“Everyone was happy, of course. You know, we’ve made some history there as a group, and we’re proud of that and now we’ve got to use that success to want some more and move on to the next opportunity that we have, the next challenge, and that’s Wellington tomorrow night.

“We had a good training session yesterday and if I judge just the session itself, the players are ready to move on.”

Arriving mid-season as it did, the question of just how the FFA Cup win will affect the mindset of Victory’s players will also be a pertinent one moving into their coming fixtures. 

After the emotional highs of a Cup win, an emotional letdown wouldn’t be out of the question but, as captain Josh Brillante hoped for before the game was staged, it could also serve as a springboard for bigger and better things. 

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“We don’t want them to forget the success,” Popovic said. “It’s not put it out of your mind completely: have it in your mind, keep it in the back of your mind and know what it took to get there. Know what it tasted like to have success and know how hard you’ve got to work to try and repeat it. 

“Now we move on to the league. We play a team that’s in form, that’s won their last couple of games. You know it’s a great challenge for us and I feel the players will be ready.”

The Victory coach said that his side had escaped their Cup win, and the resulting celebrations, with a clean bill of health and that Roderick Miranda and Robbie Kruse had both resumed training. If the trajectory of their recuperation continued, Popovic said, they would be in contention for the trip to Wollongong. 

After experiencing a sputtering start to the season, Phoenix has begun to find some form in the league as of late: winning their past two ALM contests against early-season pace-setters Western United and Macarthur FC to move into seventh place on the table, just three points back of sixth-placed Melbourne City. 

This is in spite of the Kiwi club being forced to base themselves in Australia for the second-straight season due to New Zealand’s closed borders, the challenges of which were brought to the fore again on Tuesday with the announcement that, due to the club being unable to find a matchday commercial partner for the clash with Victory, the contest is to be played behind-closed-doors. 

The club attracted just 586 people to their last game at WIN Stadium in Wollongong, the aforementioned win over Western, and according to Stuff, had expected an even smaller number on Wednesday – which had been hastily rearranged after Victory’s progression to the FFA Cup final. 

“That’s news to me,” Popovic said of the behind-closed-doors arrangement when it was raised with him. “But look, the fans are obviously an integral part of the game and you always want fans to have an opportunity to get out and support their teams. 

“We recently played [Phoenix] and it was a tough game. We obviously ran away with it at the end, winning four-one in the Cup but the cup’s obviously very different to a league game.

“[That’s] a one-off game. They’ll be confident from their last win and we will obviously be confident from our Cup win. 

“So we’re travelling, we’re away, and we know we’re playing a good team. We respect them, but we also know we’re a good side and I believe that it’ll be a tough match but one that I believe we can get the three points.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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