Melbourne Knights player-coach Marijan Cvitkovic will look to drive a bold message of fearlessness into his players ahead of their FFA Cup Round of 32 clash with Adelaide United.
Wednesday’s match at the famous old Knights Stadium in Melbourne’s north-west will mark the first time the former NSL giants have matched up against A-League opposition, and their third appearance in the cup.
Knights returned to the national stage of the competition with impressive wins back to back; one over NPL Victoria leaders Avondale, and then against traditional rivals South Melbourne.
Though eliminated from finals contention in NPL Victoria with two-regular season games remaining – they sit seven points behind sixth-placed Hume City – Knights feel a strike is within their means.
And history suggests this stage of the competition is the opportune time for NPL clubs to cause a boilover against professional opponents. Western Sydney Wanderers, Perth Glory, Wellington Phoenix, Central Coast Mariners and Adelaide themselves have all succumbed to Round of 32 stumbles against semi-professionals.
Only once has a state-level side defeated an A-League team beyond the Round of 32 stage; APIA Leichhardt sensationally knocked then-reigning champions Melbourne Victory out of the competition last year.
Cvitkovic, 32, believes his close relationship with his players will increase their chances of adding to the list of famous cup victories.
“Being a player and having a bit of an understanding and a relationship with the players, as a player, has really helped,” he said on Monday’s Daily Football Show.
“Players know … the individual that I am. I try to be as open and honest with them as much as possible.
“Going into this coaching phase now, I want to stay true to that as much as possible so when it comes down to those hard conversations sometimes – you have to give feedback – it’s always honest.
“They know that there’s no games on the side or anything like that. The feedback is to create positive feedback and a positive environment. I just try to create that environment where we’re all here for the one goal and the one task, and that’s all of us: the physio, the assistant, technical guys and kit managers.
“I’ve tried to get the playing group to buy into that, and to their credit, they have. There’ve been some fantastic performances through the course of this tenure.”
The key message is a simple one: everyone’s human.
“We’ve said from the start that we have to back ourselves. We strive to create a positive environment and positive mentality around the club with the team and that doesn’t change whether we’re playing Green Gully or Adelaide United,” Cvitkovic added.
“At the end of the day, we have that positive aspect where we know our strengths, we know each other … as opposed to Adelaide, who are quite fresh with each other and new to their season.
“However, they have that advantage where they’re together more than what we are. They’re full time professionals and we respect that. The majority of our boys work some pretty strenuous jobs.
“That’s the disadvantage of part-time football, but in regards to our effort and what we’ll bring, we’re going to try and go as hard as we can.
“Adelaide United are humans like us, so there’s nothing to fear.”
For their part, cup holders Adelaide appear set to arrive in Sunshine North as something of an unknown quantity.
New manager Gertjan Verbeek has now had six weeks to work with his players, but the Dutchman finds himself in the unusual position of still being some three months out from the season proper, a far cry from what he has become accustomed to.
United lost arguably their best player, Craig Goodwin, to the riches of Saudi Arabia, but have since gained Michael Maria, Riley McGree and Norwegian striker Kristian Opseth.
Verbeek told a media conference he was eager to use the opportunity for competitive football to analyse exactly how much progress his side has made, all the while sealing progress to the next stage.
“It’s difficult to get good friendly games here, so I don’t know exactly where the team is standing now,” Verbeek said.
“We had an internal game and that was maybe the best one, because the quality was good.
“I’m delighted to see how the guys do on Wednesday in the cup.”
Verbeek said Opseth and young striker George Blackwood, who recently overcame a hamstring injury, will not feature in the match.