Impact players set to return, others set to miss, as Victory look to spoil Kuol’s farewell.

He may have been dealt another injury blow on the eve of his side’s visit to the Central Coast, but Melbourne Victory A-League Men boss Tony Popovic is looking forward to bringing stability to his lineup in the coming weeks as several high-profile reinforcements return. 

After missing round nine with what was cited as an upper leg injury, marquee man Luis Nani has been named in the Victory side that will take on the Central Coast Mariners on New Year’s Eve, as has former Socceroo defender Matt Sprinovic, who is line to make his first appearance on the season after battling a persistent foot injury.

Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic
Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

Though not named in the initial squad, Popovic told reporters on Friday that Tomi Juric and Roderick Miranda were also in contention for the trip to Gosford and that even if they, Nani, or Spiranovic couldn’t go against the Mariners, then Victory’s Jan. 6 clash with Brisbane Roar would likely see their return. 

However, while the possibility of veteran reinforcement looms large for the side currently tenth on the ALM table, it’s not all good news on the injury front for Victory, with first-choice goalkeeper Paul Izzo set to be “out a little while,” with a thumb injury.

Matt Acton looms as the almost certain starter between the posts with Izzo out, although Popovic, albeit in an almost certain smokescreen, refused to rule out the possibility of turning to young goalkeeper Ahmed Taleb. 

“[Nani] trained a part of the session yesterday, he’ll do the whole session today and hopefully he’s fully fit,” said Popovic. “We’ll decide tomorrow if he starts or comes on to make an impact. 

“[Spiranovic, Juric, and Miranda are] all a lot better. If it’s not tomorrow, I’m sure against Brisbane a lot more of these players will feature. And moving forward, hopefully, we can have a bit more stability in terms of having those players available.”

Striker Bruno Fornaroli was signed as an injury replacement player for Spiranovic, but Popovic confirmed the latter could return without affecting the former’s availability.

“[Spiranovic] hasn’t had to wait. It’s just that so far we haven’t decided to use him and he hasn’t been quite ready,” the coach explained. 

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“But he’s getting closer. We’re considering him for this game and if it’s not this one, with another week’s training, I’d like to think that for the Brisbane match he should be available.”

After their Dec. 17 game against Melbourne City was abandoned in the 20th minute due to a violent pitch invasion and they fell to a 1-0 defeat to Western United on Boxing Day, Victory, who entered the season widely tipped as title contenders, has now slipped to tenth on the table heading into their trip to New South Wales. 

Such is the persistent parity in the ALM men, though, a heavy enough win over the Mariners on New Year’s Eve could see the four-time champions shoot into third on the table with a game in hand over their nearest rivals – the optics of a season’s trajectory turning with just a single result. 

“You can see that it’s a tough league and if you’re not at your best on any given day you can drop points,” the Victory coach said. “That’s what this league has always created. 

“Melbourne City is the only team that’s had that real consistency. The Wanderers have done very well but everyone else is picking up points and dropping points regularly. 

“For us, we had a good performance against Macarthur… it’s been an interesting ten days for the club [and then] we had a good opportunity that we didn’t take against Western United after starting the game so well. 

“Now, we have a different challenge against a team that’s full of confidence at home. It’s exciting, [it’s Garang] Kuol’s last game. It’s a challenge that you expect when you’re at Melbourne Victory and you know that every team is up for a battle against you and they want to get the three points against you. 

“That’s something that we have to deal with and we’re looking forward to the challenge and know that we’re going to have to earn it and play very well.”

Likely set to start just his third professional league match after coming off the bench in his side’s 1-0 loss to City on Tuesday afternoon, Kuol will say goodbye to Gosford after tomorrow evening’s contest: set to officially become a Newcastle United player when the January transfer window opens in England. 

Due to potential issues with securing a work permit, the 18-year-old will likely be immediately loaned out upon his arrival at Newcastle; The Telegraph reporting earlier this month that the Toon would likely look to send him to a Portuguese or German outfit for the first half of 2023, before then sending him out on loan to a Championship club in 2023/24.

“You can see that he’s a wonderful talent with so much potential,” said Popovic. “They’ve done a wonderful job with him at Central Coast. He’s got a fantastic move overseas. 

“I’m sure it will be a good crowd to support him and wish him well in his last match – and that should add more to the atmosphere. 

“It’s something that we’re looking forward to, we want to play our part, put in a top performance and try to spoil the party a little bit.”

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