With his side’s quest for a top-two finish still alive heading into the penultimate round of the A-League season, Melbourne Victory Head Coach Kevin Muscat has revealed that he anticipates having a full squad available to select from on Friday against Adelaide United.
Established players Carl Valeri, Terry Antonis and Lawrence Thomas have all been absent from Victory’s squad in recent games, which snapped a two-game losing skid after recording a 2-1 victory over A-League cellar-dwellers Central Coast Mariners on Sunday evening.
That win kept the defending A-League champions just two points behind second-placed Sydney FC heading into the A-League’s final two rounds and, with Sydney set to clash with table-toppers Perth Glory on Thursday evening, the possibility of a week off in the first week of the finals remains very much alive.
“All available,” Muscat said when queried on his side’s health.
“Granted, Carl’s missed the one game, Terry’s missed a couple of games and Lawrence has missed maybe three so they’ll all come into the reckoning.
“It’s been a good week actually because it’s been a few days of training and back into a game… an exciting game as well.
“At this time of year, normally, there are only a few games where there’s something on the line but in this game (there) is certainly (something) on the line for both teams.
“At the same time, certainly from our perspective, it’s about increasing and improving performances. Especially at this time of year.
“(Adelaide are) desperate for a home final. Especially after last year, that first elimination final was away, was here (AAMI Park).
“They’ll be desperate, they’ve been desperate against us in the games, acknowledged that… they certainly lift.
“The games are always exciting. I can’t remember a dull game against them. There’s always action, there’s always the excitement levels.
“Coopers is a wonderful stadium for that. We’ve got a big travelling contingent coming across – both bays sold out.
“It all leads to something exciting. Now, it’s up to us to go and entertain them and have a real go at each other and play a good game of football.”
The clean bill of health for his group will come as a welcome relief to Muscat, who has presided over a dressing room that at times this year has more resembled a casualty ward than a footballing environment.
Beyond his triumvirate of returning stars, Muscat has been forced to juggle injuries to key contributors Ola Toivonen (six games missed), Keisuke Honda (nine games), Raul Baena (eight games), Georg Niedermeier (nine games) throughout the season.
“It’s huge without doubt,” Muscat said on having a full squad.
“But it’s always important. One, everybody’s healthy and two, the competition for places certainly hots up.
“The standard of training goes up the more bodies you have out there. So yeah, it’s great. Hopefully, from our perspective, everybody stays fit.”
One of the key dilemmas facing Muscat is just who will line up between the posts on Friday night; having previously declared that backup goalkeeper Matt Acton was playing ‘on merit’.
Though Thomas’ place in Victory folklore is well established, Acton’s performance was key in ensuring Victory secured all three points on Sunday; the 26-year-old making a number of key second half saves to keep the Mariners at bay.
“I think there’s a great deal of intrigue because of the position,” Muscat said of the number one role.
“Lawrence has held it for quite some time and performed remarkably for himself and for the club.
“Matt Acton has performed really well (as well), so we’re focused on giving Matt all the support that he needs whilst, at the same time, offering that same support to Lawrence.
“I understand the intrigue because of the position.
“I don’t want to sound flippant but it’s exactly like every other position in the way we treat and make the decisions. If you play and play well, it’s a bit hard to leave someone out.”