Victory are champs one year bottom the next

Geelong Advertiser, 13 August 2007, p. 31.

Melbourne Victory’s poor pre-season run continued when it lost by a goal to nil to Sydney FC at Olympic Park on Saturday night.

Last year’s A-League champion thus finished last in the pre-season cup.

Victory was without defender Ljubo Milicevic who was suspended, Matt Kemp with a leg injury, though he came on for the last few minutes as substitute and, of course, Adrian Leijer who has joined Fulham in the English Premier League.

So it was a makeshift home backline with utility Steve Pantelidis filling in as stopper alongside Daniel Piorkowski with Rodrigo Vargas sweeping, but the three gelled very well together.

Sydney coach Branko Culina decided not to risk marquee signing Brazilian World Cup winner Juninho in the rain-soaked conditions, but former Socceroo Tony Popovic took his place in the centre of the defence and Mark Milligan was back in his midfield spot after trailing in Europe earlier this month.

The only goal came in 34 minutes and it was a comedy of errors as Victory’s Grant Brebner tried to clear a cross from Ruben Zadkovich only to set up Alex Brosque who had time to beat Victory keeper Michael Theoklitos.

In the second half Victory raised its game and went chasing an equaliser.

Skipper Kevin Muscat found Socceroo Archie Thompson with a quick free kick, but the normally reliable striker could not trouble Sydney keeper Clint Bolton with his shot.

Young Socceroo Kaz Patafta, on loan from Benfica for the season, came on as substitute and helped set up Daniel Allsopp but the big striker’s header went wide.

Then in a hectic last few minutes Patafta hit the woodwork, the rebound fell to another substitute Adrian Caceres who forced keeper Bolton to fumble, but Allsopp’s attempt to equalise just cleared the crossbar.

So the match ended in victory for the visitor and though Branko Culina said that Melbourne was the best team it had encountered in the pre-season matches, the fact is that Victory has a lot to get right before the first league match in Wellington in a fortnight.

Ernie Merrick remained positive knowing that there is a lot more to come from his players, who have been undergoing very heavy physical training in the lead up to the A-League. “That was the most cohesive 90 minutes we have played in the pre-season. The standard of the football we played was consistent over the whole game,” he said.

Only 3,400 fans braved the appalling conditions, but they cheered the team off at the final whistle.

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