Melbourne Victory capped off an indifferent 2017-18 A-League season with a remarkable surge to the championship.
What went right
Victory peaked at exactly the right time having been stuck in a myriad of inconsistency for the vast majority of the campaign. One week Kevin Muscat’s side was imperious, the next flat, and it seemed to hit a wall with a hugely disappointing defeat at home against Brisbane Roar in February. After that Friday night, Victory lost just two more games for the season against Perth Glory and Sydney FC.
But alas Victory recovered and the boos in Muscat’s direction died down, and his decision to go top-heavy on the starting XI paid off. The coach was scrutinised for his tactical flexibility and nous, but he showed in both the semi-final and grand final that he knew how to get the job done. Victory and Muscat were handed a slice of good fortune on the final day against Newcastle Jets through a VAR malfunction, but they played it smart after Kosta Barbarouses’ goal stood and defended resolutely to cling onto a 1-0 win.
What went wrong
Below the strong-looking starting XI, things got a bit thin. Victory’s depth always threatened to be their undoing, particularly up front and in the full-back areas. Even when Kenny Athiu entered the fray from Heidelberg United amid plenty of hype, there was no real threat to Besart Berisha’s place up top. The agile striker though eventually came good and settled into the professional environment.
The likes of Leigh Broxham, Stefan Nigro and Thomas Deng deserve credit too for filling in at right and left-back with options dry. Victory ran the gauntlet at the start of the season, opting not to adequately fill those roles, and when Jason Geria left for Japan, choice became even more scarce. But each of Broxham, Nigro and Deng performed strongly when they were called on to play a role.
There is really only one guy that fits the bill. Plucked from obscurity in Turkey, Leroy George proved a brilliant signing by Muscat and topped the league for assists with 14. The 31-year-old found the net 11 times for Victory and dazzled crowds with his wonderful ability from set pieces.
An unlikely shout, Deng also deserves plenty of praise. The natural centre-back was called on to shift out to the right for much of the season and was admirable, adding another string to his bow at a young age.
The futures of some key men are up in the air. Carl Valeri, James Troisi, Besart Berisha, James Donachie and George are no guarantee to hang around next season, though heroic goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas is expected to agree to a new two-year contract.
Corey Brown and Storm Roux are as good as signed and will ease Victory’s full-back concerns.
“It was up and down. You knew they’d be there or thereabouts because of the quality of player they have on their books and culturally, what that club is about,” former Sydney FC champion and ABC Grandstand caller Simon Colosimo said.
Grade – A
While Victory should be commended for their charge to the championship, one that saw them become the first A-League side to four toilet seats and the first team to do it from fourth, success should not paper over the cracks in what was a poor season by their high standards. Victory were susceptible to many a flat spot during the season and had to show plenty of character to get out of those ruts; it was far from perfect. There were problems across the park, mainly in terms of defensive width, but overwhelmingly the campaign gone is a resounding pass for the champions.