Coming off a ‘1-1’ derby draw, Victory relishing home comforts against Perth Glory

If you’re Melbourne Victory boss Tony Popovic, there are two ways of looking at Wednesday evening’s resumption of the Melbourne Derby. In one interpretation, Melbourne City, thanks to an Aiden O’Neill brace on either side of the re-start, took out a 2-1 win, moving five points clear atop the A-League Men table and denying their foes a chance to close to within a point of the finals’ places. An alternative framing, however, is that Victory was able to eke out an unrecognised 1-1 draw across the 69 minutes of football that were actually played against the league’s best side, stretching an ‘unbeaten’ run to three. 

Your mileage with the two may vary. Certainly, the official record books (and more importantly, the points on the A-League Men table) will reflect the former, and fans of City (as well as Victory fans whose patience this season has worn thin) will no doubt roll their eyes at any attempt to rewrite history. But it should carry little surprise that the Victory gaffer is adopting the former outlook anyway. 

Rejecting one’s reality in favour of replacing it with a more amenable one? Perhaps. But it’s at least one that has some logical grounding. O’Neill’s 57th-minute strike was the only time that City rippled the net on Wednesday evening, and Nishan Velupillay did the same thing for Victory in the 89th minute. Football has always been an environment in which players and coaches will always seek out any sort of framework to provide them with any kind of mental boost that they can – even if it stretches or even outright breaks with reality – anyway.

Thus, heading into a crucial Sunday fixture against Perth Glory on Sunday in which Victory’s season is likely on the line (again), it’s no surprise that that’s the approach that the 49-year-old coach is taking. 

“It’s a fact. That is a fact. We played for 70 minutes and for 70 minutes it was 1-1,” Popovic said on Friday. “So, the message is clear, that’s what happened. 

“And we continued with our good form. We’ve had some good recent form in terms of results. On the night, we had a draw against the best team. We certainly more than competed with them, we created opportunities and we defended very well. 

“So, we’re a team that’s doing well at this moment. Now we’ve got to confirm this busy week we’ve had with three points on Sunday.”

Their nominal game in hand against City now completed, Victory enters the final month of the season in a position wherein they are simultaneously battling to avoid the wooden spoon and force their way into a finals place. 

Presently sitting eleventh on the table, the four-time ALM champions are just a point clear of bottom-placed Brisbane Roar but, simultaneously, are just four points back of sixth-placed Sydney FC. Beyond this, Victory possesses the best goal difference of all the sides sitting sixth through twelfth and will play three of their remaining four matches at home against sides currently sitting outside the top six. 

The unlikely path to a playoff berth is there but first, Popovic’s side will have to account for Perth, who enters the round three points clear of them in seventh position. 

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After a calamitous wooden-spoon-winning season in 2021-22 that he was thrust into late on as a caretaker, Ruben Zadkovich hasn’t returned the Glory to the penthouse in his first full season in charge in 2022-23 but has, at the very least, returned some level of respectability to the West Australians as they mount their own playoff push.  

A lot of this has to do with the side’s form at their temporary and now former home of Macedonia Park, where they recorded five wins, four draws, and just a single loss during a renovation-enforced stint away from Perth Oval. That run included a strong 3-1 win over Victory back in January, where a returning Adam Taggart came off the bench and grabbed goals in the 80th and 87th minutes to secure three points.  

“They took advantage of their home ground and credit to them,” said Popovic. “That’s how it should be. My experience of being in Perth and playing at HBF, we always made that a fortress. That was an advantage we had and we took it. 

“Our recent form at [AAMI Park] has been of a team taking advantage of their home ground [Though they’ve lost to Western United and City at the venue in that stretch, Victory is undefeated in four home games at AAMI Park]. Now we have another opportunity to do that and we want to continue with points on the board at home. 

“They had to change venues in Perth and they’ve made that a real fortress and picked up a lot of points. When you do that in your home games, it gives you confidence but also puts the points on the board which means when you travel there’s less pressure to get results.

“They’ve put themselves well and truly in the mix, they’re ahead of us on the table. We have an opportunity to catch them with a win on Sunday. We know they’ll be resolute, they’ll come very determined to play hard and to get a result. We’re under no illusions that it will be a difficult match but we do feel confident in our game at the moment. 

“It will need to be a good performance, we understand that. We feel we can and if we do we can get the three points and keep ourselves well and truly in the mix for finals.”

Popovic said that preliminary indications were that all of those that participated in Wednesday evening’s fixture had pulled up well enough to contribute on Sunday, but that the club was still monitoring the status of Jason Geria. 

The defender has been absent with a hip injury in recent weeks and Popovic indicated that he was unlikely to join the main training group on Friday. 

“The last couple of days [Geria’s] been on his own, albeit that’s because we had a game and haven’t trained,” said Popovic.  

“Today, he’ll probably do something similar and then we’re hoping tomorrow with our first full session that he can join in. If he can’t, we’ve got to delay [his return] another week.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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