The Melbourne Victory revolution got off to a slow burner of a start but neither the club’s hierarchy nor new coach Tony Popovic will be bothered by that after Portuguese defender Roderick Miranda’s late header gave them a 1-0 win over Western United in the opening match of the new A-League Men’s season.
For Popovic – who afterwards confessed this was the first time he had won the opening game of the season – the result was all that mattered.
Miranda celebrates scoring a goal during the A-League match on Saturday night.Credit:Getty Images
“We know we didn’t play so well in the first half, but we stayed in the game. Scrappy at times but happy that we were solid as a unit, and in the second half I thought we improved and looked more of a threat. Overall a 1-0 win, delighted to win away from home,” he said.
John Aloisi, taking charge of Western for the first time, was disappointed not to get a share of the spoils but felt there was a lot to like about his team’s performance.
“It was very positive from our side. I thought that we played well and created some good openings in the first half. It is disappointing to lose because we didn’t think we deserved to. But if we keep on improving – and we will improve – the results will come our way.”
This game was a gritty, closely fought contest and in truth there were few thrills as defences were on top for most of the match.
But two things were clear right from the outset.
Victory under Popovic will be structured, organised and hard to break down – as might be expected given the resources he was handed and the players he was able to sign to turn the club around after a disastrous 2020-21 campaign in which they finished bottom for the first time ever.
And Western’s Italian forward Alessandro Diamanti illustrated the old verity that class is permanent – whatever a player’s age – as he pulled most of the strings during his team’s most threatening attacks.
Diamanti of Western United controls the ball during the A-League on Saturday night.Credit:Getty Images
Despite the narrow defeat United also look to have found a potential colossus at the back in the 1.97m Swiss defender Leo Lacroix, a towering figure whose ability to intercept, read the play and lead the rearguard bodes well for Aloisi’s team.
Victory felt they could have had an early free kick close in when Tomoki Imai shoulder charged Jason Geria as he bore down on goal but in reality that was one of the few times in the opening half that they threatened.
Western came closest midway through the first half when defender Ben Garuccio got forward and tested Victory’s new goalkeeper Ivan Kelava, who saved at his near post.
Victory had loud appeals for a penalty waved away early in the second period when a header by Miranda seemed to deflect off Steven Lustica’s arm.
They nearly got caught at the other end when Lachlan Wales got clear to set up Josh Risdon whose pass found Connor Pain only for the forward to shoot straight at Kelava.
Defences from both sides were still in the ascendancy but as the game wore on Victory did start to look a bit more enterprising.
Popovic brought on his new Italian forward Francesco Margiotta and young striker Nishan Velupillay in a bid to liven up the attack.
It did seem as though a set piece might be the way to goal, and that is how it turned out with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Jake Brimmer slung over an inviting corner and Miranda got clear of his marker to head home at the near post. It was to prove all that was needed.
Both coaches, new to their clubs, will have learned plenty from this rather dour arm wrestle.
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