Victory ready to reinforce and keep their season alive against City

Melbourne Victory’s hopes of staging an upset in Saturday night’s Melbourne Derby appear set to receive a boost; injured goalkeeper Paul Izzo nearing a return and new signing Fernando Romero potentially taking up a position on the bench.

The good vibes from Victory’s 3-1 win over Wellington were quickly spoiled against the Newcastle Jets last week, with coach Tony Popovic’s side falling to a 2-1 defeat amidst yet more defensive brain fades and a controversial non-penalty call against Jets keeper Jack Duncan in stoppage time. 

Rooted to the foot of the ALM table heading into Saturday, a failure to pick up points against City could see the four-time champions cast ten points adrift of the top six by the end of the round, increasingly shaping as the first team whose playoff chances could have a line drawn through them with some level of justification, despite the intransigent parity gripping the competition. 

Now, taking something against a City side that has scored 13 goals in their last three games and themselves could open up a double-digit lead atop the table with a win is easier said than done, but Melbourne’s navy blue half will at least be able to call upon some reinforcements for their coming labour – chief amongst them Izzo. 

Signed as the club’s new number one during the offseason from Greek side Xanthi, where he worked with Popovic after leaving Adelaide United, the keeper hasn’t featured for Victory since injuring his thumb in a 1-0 loss to Western United on Boxing Day. 

However, having ramped up his goalkeeping work in recent weeks and never stopping his conditioning work, one doesn’t run on one’s thumbs, after all, the 28-year-old now appears set to take up his position between the sticks just in time to face City’s high-powered attack. 

“I believe he is [ready to start], looking at what he’s done this week so far,” said Popovic. “He’s been out for a while. We know it’s very different when you haven’t played for several weeks, especially for a goalkeeper, but we can only judge on what we can see. 

“He’s worked extremely hard on other parts of his game that he could, in terms of fitness. And he looks good. Very hopeful that we’ll see him out there tomorrow.”

After arriving in Melbourne earlier this week, newly signed Paraguayan attacker Fernando Romero is also set to come into contention for his first minutes in Australia off the bench. 

The 22-year-old, signed on loan from  Paraguayan Primera División side Club Cerro Porteño on the last day of the January transfer window, joins new signings Damien Da Silva, Connor Chapman, and Bruce Kamau in being available to bolster Victory’s attempts to salvage their season. 

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“We hope so,” Popovic said of Romero’s chances to play.” “He’s a young boy that’s never been out of Paraguay. I don’t think he even knew what jet lag was until he got here. The other side of the world to get here. 

“He’s very keen, very ambitious. He’s got a fantastic attitude and he wants to play well. We’re giving him every chance. We’ve named him in the extended squad hoping that he’ll be ok for the game. We’ll make a final decision after the day. 

“Looking at how he is right now, I think a start would be difficult. It would be too much for the boy to throw him in. But if he’s fit enough after today he should be available to come on and make an impact.”

The news is not so good, however, for midfielder Rai Marchan, who remains on the sidelines and with no timeline set as to when he will be able to return from his lingering issues from the concussion he suffered against Adelaide on January 14. 

The Spaniard isn’t training with Victory’s main group in his attempts to return and is being encouraged to take time for himself to ensure he maintains a positive headspace amidst the uncertainty that surrounds his recovery to a level where he can resume playing. 

“It’s always a difficult one to answer when it comes to that concussion because a lot of it’s based on how Rai feels,” explained Popovic. 

“When he feels good it could be in a day or two that he feels fine to train fully. At the moment, he’s just doing bits and pieces in terms of his own training. And we’re being very cautious in terms of a head injury. 

“You have to be careful and we’re putting Rai’s health at the forefront of our thoughts. Do we want him back? Yes, definitely. We want him and miss him but his health is number one. 

“It’s day by day, week by week. I don’t know how long it will be. We could get a nice surprise that he feels great next week and he’s back into full training. But once he’s in full training and he can get through a few full days, then we’ll know he’ll be fine and available for selection. But until then, it’s a day-by-day process. 

“We’re trying to get him to stay away from here because the more you’re here, the more you’re thinking about training and doing extras, asking why you don’t feel 100% and why you can’t train at 100%. 

“We want him to spend as much time away as possible, in terms of him feeling good about himself. Hopefully, that takes some anxiety and stress away from wanting to come back ASAP. And when he’s ready, he’ll let us know.”

Beyond being a make-or-break game for Victory, Saturday’s derby is the first since the violent pitch invasion that marred the Christmas encounter which resulted in the club being hit with heavy sanctions from Football Australia. 

Popovic, though, was very happy to have that in the rearview mirror. 

“We’ve all moved on from that,” he said. “I don’t know if the players are speaking about it internally but we’re not addressing it as a group. We’re happy to see our fans and members back. We want that to continue.

“We have to think about how we can play very well. Physically, they’re probably up there with the best teams in the league. You have to match them with everything. They’re on top for a reason. They keep winning. All their players are in very good form.

“But we’re not playing badly. We’re just not getting the results. We feel we’re very close to turning this. There’s no better night or no better game to do it than in a derby. We’re up against the best, that’s a fantastic challenge.

“We know we’re good enough to win the game but instead of talking about it, we have to show it in our performance. And if we bring out the best performance I think we can really show Melbourne City what a good team we are.”

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