Victory embracing the pressure of ALM premiership race

Looking to ensure the fight for the A-League Men Premiership remains a three-way dance when they travel to face Macarthur on Friday evening, Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic says these are the stakes his side “should” be relishing. 

Caught up in the log-jam of clubs on the fringes of the top-six at the midway point of the season, Victory defeated Central Coast 1-0 on February 19 and hasn’t looked back since. 

More than two months on, Popovic’s side is riding a club-record 11-league game unbeaten run heading into the final weeks of the season and well poised to pounce on any slip-ups from the top-two from their third-placed perch. 

See Also: Victory break Jets hearts in AL Men win

The three-time ALM premiers sit six points back of second-placed Western United with a game in hand and eight points back of top-of-the-table Melbourne City with two games in hand. While City’s +23 goal difference appears an unassailable target, their +9 margin is just three back of their Western rivals. 

Victory will end their season away to Brisbane Roar, at home against Wellington and then away to Big Blue rivals Sydney FC on the final day of the season but, first, will head to Campbelltown on Friday evening to take on Macarthur FC. 

Currently occupying sixth place on the ALM table, the Bulls are a point clear and possess a game in hand over seventh-placed Sydney FC, but are only two points clear and have logged one match more than eighth-placed Central Coast Mariners, who will play Newcastle on Saturday evening. 

The stakes for Friday’s clash, therefore, are significant for both sides, something Popovic says his side is embracing. 

“Yes, we do – we should,” the Victory coach said on Thursday. 

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position.

“We need to keep winning to put pressure on the teams above us. But we’re eleven games undefeated at the moment, we want to make that twelve on Friday 

“The only way to keep pressure on the top two is by getting the results. Tomorrow is another opportunity to do that.”

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They may have left it late – Italian striker Francesco Margiotta heading in the 93rd minute late, to be precise – but Victory kept their premiership hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Newcastle in their last hitout.

See Also: Wanderers sink Jets in A-League Men

Starting in place of Jake Brimmer due to the 24-year-old being in concussion protocols, Socceroo attacker Chris Ikonomidis logged a full 90 minutes for the first time this season in that contest and, according to Popovic, pulled up well. 

Both he and Brimmer are set to be available for selection against the Bulls, as will all of Victory’s squad bar long-term injured pair Robbie Kruse and Matt Acton. 

Injured in Victory’s Asian Champions League loss to Vissel Kobe in March, Kruse was initially feared to have injured his ACL against the Japanese powers but subsequent scans downgraded that to an injury to the cartilage in his knee.

Robbie Kruse has returned to Melbourne to continue rehabbing cartilage in his knee.
Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

Though ruled out for the rest of the regular season at a minimum, there are hopes at Victory that Kruse could potentially contribute off the bench should they stage a deep finals run. 

And while Popovic wouldn’t be drawn on timeframes, he confirmed on Thursday that the former Socceroo had returned to the club for rehab. 

“He’s back here now. He spent some time at home with his family and he’s just got back,” the Victory coach said. 

“He’s seen the specialist, everything’s positive on that front. His next steps I’m not quite sure – does he start running or does he start doing more work in the gym? 

“I think it’s just day by day with Robbie. We feared the worst but we got a positive outcome for him and the club. Let’s just see what happens at the end of the year.”

Friday’s contest at Campbelltown Stadium – which the Bulls will use to raise funds for victims of recent flooding in NSW – will mark the first time that Western-Sydney native Popovic will have coached in Sydney’s southwest. 

“I thought they played well against Western United,” Popovic said of the Bulls recent 2-0 loss to Western. “It could have gone either way in that game. 

“I’m sure they’ll review that and be happy with the performance and not the result. 

“If you look at them last year they had a lot of good results away from home and this year they’ve improved a lot on their home form. 

“We expect this to be a very tough game.

“(Bulls’ fans cowbells) will be unique and new for me. 

“I look forward to seeing (friend and Bulls coach) Ante (Milicic) and seeing the great job that he’s doing there. (Macarthur Group CEO) Sam Krslovic as well. 

“I’ve got some long time friends that it’s great to see are involved in the game. 

“I always wish them the best… but maybe not tomorrow.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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