Victory come up blank again as Roar take 1-0 win at AAMI Park

Melbourne Victory’s meeting with Brisbane Roar never shaped as a contest that would offer thrills, spills and chills. Far from it. The league’s third most profligate attack hosting the competition’s most miserly offensive unit, it loomed more as a meeting between the resistible force and the stoppable object. 

But perhaps in such circumstances it’s better to be lucky than good in such circumstances, as Jay O’Shea discovered when his 73rd-minute shot took a massive, looping deflection off Roderick Miranda and sailed beyond Matt Acton to secure his side at AAMI Park. Admittedly, dismissing it entirely as fortune might be unfair to the Irishman, given the skill he displayed in rounding Nishan Velupillay to set up the shot, but the fact remains that to that point neither the visitors nor the hosts had much looked like scoring and that moment didn’t exactly lead to a deluge of chances. 

Jay O’Shea puts Brisbane Roar ahead 1-0
Image Credit: Paramount+

Yes, there were other looks at either end and the Roar likely shaded the better of the opportunities, but whether they were actually notable or more straws to be clutched at in a search for excitement and meaning across a dour 90 minutes is a very open question. Combined with the result, the blunt performance might mean that the North Terrace fans that were banned from attending due to Football Australia sanctions will come to look back on their absence from the contest as a small mercy. 

For the Queenslanders, it was just their third win on the season and the goal was just the ninth they have scored in ten games. However, their league-leading defence means that those wins sit alongside seven draws and just a single defeat – enough to see them occupy fifth place on the table and, despite their offensive struggles, well in the mix to play finals football. 

“I thought well deserved, start to finish,” said Roar coach Warren Moon. “I thought we had a great defensive set-up, playing against a very good Melbourne Victory side, nullified their threats and we were dangerous going forward. We grew into the game and when spaces opened up in the second half I felt we were worthy winners.”

Brisbane has now come to Melbourne twice in the past week and left with a draw and a win against the reigning champions and one of the competition’s nominal heavyweights. They’re unbeaten in the last eight games, a span of nearly three months. It’s not going amazingly well, but it’s far from the disaster that many perhaps thought the club might have been headed towards at the start of the season. Perhaps there’s a reason for a bit of optimism. As a treat.

“We haven’t scored many, we haven’t conceded many and we’re picking up points and I think that’s the important thing for us,” said the Roar boss. “So we’re not fazed by the fact that we’re not scoring at the moment.

“We picked up a win on the road tonight, an excellent win. That’s four points out of six at AAMI Park against two very good sides. So we’ll take that, we’ll continue to work hard, try to be more of a threat and score more goals.

“But right now, while we’re not losing games, we’ll keep looking to improve and I think we will. It’s just a case of right now with the squad we’ve got, we’ll get a few more bodies in the door shortly and hopefully, we’ll kick on in the second half of the season.”

Victory, though, faces a much more adverse outlook. Their third loss on the bounce has now taken them to six defeats on the season thus far and, with just three wins to their name, they remain second-bottom on the ALM table after ten games. The ratio having been significantly boosted by a 4-0 win over Newcastle and a 3-2 win over Sydney, coach Tony Popovic’s side is now officially scoring less than one goal a game and has netted just once in their last three. 

“We have to [find a solution],” said the Victory coach. “And I have to take that responsibility. It’s my job. I’m the head coach here at a big football club. That’s my responsibility. It lies on me and that’s what I have to do with the coaching staff and the players.

“In the front third, we need to find that mojo back again. We’re not scoring goals but in two games we’ve scored a four and a three. So, it’s there, we’ve got to find it, we’ve got to unlock it and it’s my responsibility to do that.”

Whereas Moon has already declared that his Roar will be actively looking to add attacking talent during the January transfer window as a solution to their attacking woes, Victory, nominally, should already have everything they need to put the ball back in the net. 

Through Ben Folami and Nick D’Agostino, they have two young attackers that were capped by Graham Arnold during the Socceroos’ last qualification cycle. In Jake Brimmer, they feature the reigning Johnny Warren medalist, one whose candidacy for that honour was largely built off luxurious highlight reel assists and long-range bombs. 

While injured for the Glory visit, Chris Ikonomidis has proven a highly effective weapon at both ALM and international levels. Luis Nani, meanwhile, arrived in Melbourne as a highly touted, Champions League and European Championship winger attacker; a highly remunerated marquee that would send the attack to another level. Sure, he’s only played 15 minutes this season, but Socceroo Asian Cup hero Tomi Juric is there as well. 

And beyond all that, Victory might be said to have already made their midseason splash in the transfer market: bringing in Bruno Fornaroli after he exited Perth Glory. The only thing is, the Uruguayan-born Socceroo has now found himself relegated to the bench in his side’s last two games. 

Never mind any of the talks about off-field financial troubles, right now Melbourne Victory’s A-League Men side can’t buy a goal. 

“The squad that we have at the moment, we have a good squad,” Popovic said, playing down moves in the transfer window.

“We have good footballers. It can happen that you can be down on confidence and belief when things don’t go quite your way but they’re good players. I’m sure it will turn, but without working hard it’s not going to change. If we feel sorry for ourselves it’s not going to change.

“We have to accept where we’re at. As a football club, we expect more. I take the responsibility of that role, proudly. And I’ll be proud to help the club, work hard, and turn this around.”

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Indeed, things really do need to turn around. Victory was only able to generate 0.48 xG across eleven attempts on Friday, none of which much looked like they were causing Jordan Holmes much panic in the Roar goal, such as when Brimmer sent a bullet header in from a Geria corner in the 38th minute for his side’s first major chance. 

Seeking a solution to his side’s goalscoring woes, Popovic had switched it up again for the encounter; deploying Josh Brillante on the right of a back five that for the first time this season had Victory’s best defensive trio of Miranda, Jason Geria, and Matt Spiranovic. 

“It was good to see Jason Geria coming back to more of the Jason that we remember,” stated Popovic. “That’s four consecutive games [he’s started]. We need Roddy [Miranda] and Spira [Spiranovic] to find that as well. Once we find that that will give us a lot more stability at the back. They really struggled, Roddy and Spira, in the last 20 minutes but unfortunately, you can’t take them off.”

Ahead of the defence was Brimmer and Rai Marchan in a deeper-lying double pivot, with Nani, Folami and D’Agostino in front of them.

It was different, Brillante and D’Agostino were recalled to the starting lineup after being dropped to the bench last week, but it ultimately couldn’t provide a solution. 

Brimmer tried his luck from range in the 41st only to once again send it straight at the Roar custodian, the same result that greeted Nani when he picked up a loose ball and spun and shot in the 53rd. Still leading the ALM in shots without reward this season, the Portuguese superstar was clearly trying to get something going but just couldn’t figure out how, with an acrobatic, headed effort from a Brillante cross in the 55th-minute sailing wide. 

Spared a deficit by Nikola Milusnic running himself into a poor angle and shooting wide after a breakaway two minutes later, substitute Fornaroli then got his chance to try and head home a Brillante cross in the 70th minute, only for the result to be the same as Nani’s offering. 

Then, O’Shea’s goal happened. And a quiet realisation began to spread about the Victory members in the stands – the only fans allowed to attend the fixture by Football Australia’s sanctions. It was happening again. 

Their side was not going to be able to find the back of the net. Against an opposition that coming into the season they would have been expected to handle with ease, they were instead going to draw a blank: Nani’s stoppage-time free-kick bouncing awkwardly, but ultimately claimed by Holmes. 

The foibles in possession that had been there during their second-placed finish in 2021/22, the struggles to create high-quality looks on goal when controlling possession and playing against an embedded defence, are biting even harder this season. 

“They came with a game plan, we didn’t really create enough, to be honest,” the Victory boss reflected. “We had a couple of moments, good moments, we just needed that goal to change the rhythm and the momentum of the game.

“We were in control without creating enough which is probably the issue tonight and then that kind of follows you a little bit when you’re not on top of your game with the ball, in the final third that is.”

Taking on the accountability for fixing all this will be on Popovic, who exited the field on Friday evening to a chorus of boos from the frustrated Victory faithful in attendance — one angry supporter demanding, rather enthusiastically more heart from the playing group and declaring them f**cking shit as they walked around the pitch post-game — and with Nani hobbled by a potential injury. 

“That’s normal and you’ve got to expect that,” Popovic said of the boo-birds. “We can’t expect them to be cheering us off the park when we lost a game at home. So I understand their frustration and I share their frustration but certainly, we’re working hard next week to make sure that we can turn this around.

“I don’t know [what has happened to Nani]. I was coming here he was coming out of the medical room. But when I looked at it on the replay it didn’t look great. Hopefully, it’s not too bad.”

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Header Image: Paramount+

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