Brimmer blast puts Victory on cusp of ALM grand final

 A bolt from the (navy) blue from Jake Brimmer has handed Melbourne Victory the ascendency in their semifinal tie with Western United, as Tony Popovic’s side ran out 1-0 winners in the tie’s first leg at AAMI Park on Tuesday evening. 

In the right place at the time to meet Jamie Young’s attempt to punch clear a Jason Davidson corner in the 74th minute of the contest, the 24-year-old lashed a half-volleyed back over the head of the United custodian and into the top corner of the net to grab his fourth goal in five games, send the Victory portion of the 7295 fans in attendance into raptures, and break the fixture open.

It was a goal that not only served to secure the win for his side but, in effect, gives them one foot in the grand final. Triumph there, and the most meteoric renewal in ALM history — quite literally worst to first — would be complete.

“Jakey [Brimmer] is doing something now that probably he needed in his game,” said Popovic. 

“He’s scoring a lot more frequently now. And that’s only really happened in the last couple of months. He’s always assisted goals but now he’s scoring and he’s scoring in big games.

“You’ve had to ask Jakey if I played any part in that. 

“Three years ago… he’s more mature now. He’s 24. He’s always had the talent and now he’s a lot more consistent in his play. He gained some confidence last year by playing a lot of minutes and he set himself some very high standards in pre-season. 

“He’s one of the players in our squad that didn’t miss training. He wanted to be the best every day. When you work that way and you have the talent Jakey has, the rewards can follow.”

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Brimmer’s strike, impressive as it was, provided a much-needed jolt of excitement in a game that, otherwise, was primarily defined by its caution in possession and apparent desire from both sides to play a game that they wouldn’t lose, rather than one they would win. 

The belligerents appeared well aware that another fixture awaited them on Saturday evening and that any sort of deficit heading into that game would immediately surrender the reactive initiative that they both operate best in – Victory now in the apparent ascendency in that regard heading into the second leg. 

In truth, it shouldn’t have been surprising. Not only was this the most obvious result of putting two pragmatic sides that had already met three times this season, but it was also a foreseeable outcome of the new finals format. 

Leagues’ commissioner Greg O’Rourke was quoted as declaring that the new approach would produce “even more captivating drama for supporters and viewers” upon its announcement. If finals are fun, the reasoning stands, then surely twice as many games would produce 

The risk, however, was that such a format was an invitation for a ramping up of the pragmaticism that generally defines the league, as ESPN’s Ante Jukic identified almost immediately after the announcement. And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what was produced, as clear chances came at a premium. 

“It was a tough semi-final. It’s what you expect, it was a real battle,” Popovic said. 

“I thought it was always going to be a tight game and one that needed something special and we scored a fantastic goal.

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“The first half, early on, they caused some problems in transition with their balls in behind and the speed of their play. I feel we dealt with that better in the second half, they’re a very well organised team. They’re hard to break down.

“We had to be patient and it took a fantastic goal to do it but at halftime in a two-leg match, we’ve got a slight advantage.”

Outside of set pieces, United’s best ‘chance’ arguably arrived in just the fifth minute of play when Lachlan Wales was bundled over the penalty area by Jason Davidson. Penalties have been given for less in the past but on this occasion, much to the disgust of the United bench that rose as one in protest, referee Alireza Faghani waved play on. 

Needless to say, United coach John Aloisi disagreed with the Iranian official’s call. 

“Well, Lachie’s in front of the defender,” he said. 

“The defender runs into Lachie, and Lachie goes down. We all saw it. 

“[But] the referee obviously didn’t see it. The assistant referee didn’t see it, I don’t know-how. But the VAR missing it has happened to us all season, so I expected the VAR to miss it. 

“The Lachie one’s clear. It’s clear. Anyone that understands the game will know that’s a clear penalty. There’s no intent to play the ball. He’s pushed him from behind. That’s disappointing because when it’s so clear. You expect if the referee doesn’t see it – and … the referee had a good game, I’m not saying that he didn’t. If the referee doesn’t see it, then help him [with VAR].”

Three minutes after this contentious call, one of United’s set-piece chances arrived when Aleksander Prijovic headed a Ben Garruccio corner goalward only to be denied by a fine piece of goalkeeping by Ivan Kelava. 

It would be the last of United’s real notable chances until another set piece in the 64th, when Léo Lacroix met another Garruccio corner with a header that went straight into the paws of Kelava. 

In the intervening period, Victory striker Nicholas D’Agostino would prove just unable to react quickly enough to send crosses in the 23rd and 44th minute, while Brimmer would flash a long-range effort over the bar in the 41st. 

The former Nunawading junior’s goal with 15 minutes to go represented the first shot that Victory, despite having 65% of the ball to that point in the half, sent in in the second stanza. 

Despite the disappointment of the defeat, this was something, coming off a short turnaround, that Aloisi pointed to as a silver lining heading into the return fixture.

“Turnaround from Saturday to Tuesday, excellent,” the coach said.

“We limited them to a few chances, if any, and they had to score a special goal to win the game. 

“To be honest, we’re well and truly in this tie. This is the first half, we’re 1-0 down.”

United did try to increase the tempo and restore parity before the second leg in the aftermath of the goal, working against a Victory defence that was even deeper than before.  

Still, it wasn’t able to create any kind of chances, barring perhaps a late effort from Garruccio that flew over the bar in the 93rd, which would significantly quicken the pulse of Kelava in the Victory goal. 

Nonetheless, thanks to the two-legged nature of these semifinals, United will get an opportunity to go for it and overturn the deficit on Saturday, likely with the services of Steven Lustica, who Aloisi indicated was likely to return. 

“If they sit back, no problem. We’ll create a chance like we created with Ben Garuccio at the end and we nearly got that goal,” the gaffer said.

“If they come to press us, no problem, we’ll play a certain way. We’re ready for whatever they try and do and we’ll play our game. We don’t have to panic because it’s one goal. We don’t have to try and think that we have to do something completely different.

“We took the game to them in the first 20-odd minutes and put them under pressure. I’m not saying that it’s going to be the same next game, there might be you know, little few tweaks here and there from their side or from our side. But nothing drastic has to change.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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