Though it didn’t demand the headlines of Keisuke Honda’s first game at AAMI Park, Socceroos defender Thomas Deng’s contract extension or the coaching battle between Kevin Muscat and Tony Popovic; Sunday night was a momentous occasion for Melbourne Victory’s Kosta Barbarouses.
Now in his second stint with the club, the Kiwi attacker notched his 100th appearance for the reigning A-League champions in their heartbreaking, 3-2 defeat at AAMI Park on Sunday evening.
Goals to Joel Chianese and Andy Keogh appeared to have the visitors cruising headed into the half time interval as Victory’s narrow 4-4-2 diamond struggling to make any kind of headway against Tony Popovic’s men.
Signs of life appeared for Victory, though, when Terry Antonis struck a sweetly taken shot to make it 2-1 just after half time, shifting the tide of momentum.
When Storm Roux then headed in from a corner in the 87th minute AAMI Park came alight with hopes of an improbable comeback.
The dreams of Barbarouses, his teammates and the fans, nevertheless, were crushed three minutes into injury time when Chris Ikonomidis sent a dagger through their hearts; earning his side the three points and consigning Victory to their second straight season of opening back-to-back defeats.
Despite the disappointment of being unable to mark his 100th appearance in a Victory shirt with a win, Barbarouses said that there positives to be taken from the game for his side.
“(There were) really pleasing signs,” Barbarouses said following the game.
“Just like last week, I’m actually just really gutted for the boys today.
“I think we played some really good stuff and I think we deserved to get at least a point out of the game.
“I don’t even think we were really slow out of the blocks, two sloppy goals and we were chasing the game from there. We did so well to get back into it and it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Starting the contest as part of a front-two alongside Kenny Athiu, Barbarouses was frustrated throughout the first 45 but began to show signs of why he’s been entrusted with pulling on the Victory shirt 100 times as the game wore on.
The 28-year-old was able to find more space to work in as he drifted wider in the second stanza, and it was his volleyed effort late in the contest that earned his side the corner that Keisuke Honda perfectly placed onto the head of Roux for the equaliser.
The New Zealand international said that, despite his two games in his new role coming in two defeats, he was enjoying his role up front.
“I really like it, I think it’s a great position for me,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s a new one and we had to wait a little bit for the rest of the boys to come in – Keisuke (Honda) and Ola (Toivonen) – to try a few things.
“If we win today it looks great, but we didn’t.
“I think it’s really positive and even at times tonight it was really good.
“It’s hard to say with two losses that it’s going well but I think (we’ve played) some of the best stuff we’ve played in the last two years in patches.
“(We) just switch off at times, but I really like the role where I am and with those sort of players behind you I’m always licking to get those opportunities.”
Barbarouses first arrived at AAMI Park for the 2013-14 season, linking back up with then Victory Head Coach Ange Postecoglou after playing under the future Socceroos boss at Brisbane Roar.
Debuting in a round two draw with Adelaide United, Barbarouses made 73 appearances for the Victory in his first go-round in navy blue; winning an A-League Championship in 2014-15.
Though he would sign a three-year deal with the Wellington Phoenix – the club he began his career with in 2007-08 – during the following offseason, he would go on to spend only a single campaign in the Land of the Long White Cloud; securing his release from the Phoenix and returning to AAMI Park on a two-year deal ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.
He then played a key role in Victory’s turnaround last year, ultimately scoring the – admittedly VAR tainted – goal that enabled Victory to stage ‘The Heist in the Hunter’ and defeat Newcastle Jets in the 2017-18 grand final.
“It’s pretty special, to be honest,” Barbarouses said as he reflected on his time at Victory.
“I’m 28 now and this is the first milestone I’ve reached with a club for whatever reason. Earlier on I had to move around a little bit to settle down.
“It’s been great to be here for, this is my fifth season now.
“It’s a real privilege because you know the quality of the club and if you’re not doing your job there’s always people that want to come in and play for the Victory so.
“Hopefully I’ve repaid the club and the fans with my efforts.”
Asked if had any particularly favourite memories of his time with Victory, Barbarouses was quick to identify a few key moments that likely hold a special place in both his heart and the hearts of Victory faithful.
“The semi-final against City when I scored the volley at Etihad, both grand finals and the FFA Cup win,” he reminisced.
“It’s the moments you’re successful.
“You don’t get to take everything in while you’re going through it, it’s always next week, next week, next week.
“Now it’s all in the past you can sort of reflect on it and those are definitely all my favourite moments, all the hard work paying off.”