Victory’s title defence cops another early blow
DEFIANT Kevin Muscat declared that the Melbourne Victory positives far outweighed the cons, despite a second straight loss to start their A-League title defence.
A courageous Victory fightback was cancelled out by fringe Socceroo Chris Ikonomidis, whose stoppage-time winner handed jubilant coach Tony Popovic a maiden Glory win.
Muscat said Victory's recovery from a poor start - they conceded twice inside 23 minutes - was outstanding, declaring they were on the right track.
"In terms of score we were on the canvas, but in terms of performance we were far from on the canvas,'' Muscat said.
"We will play a helluva lot worse than that this year and win. The performance needs to be analysed, there was so much to like about it, it was so good.
"So much to like in the way we get forward, create chances, force them into their own box. I enjoyed watching us take it to them in the second half.
"We'll eliminate those errors that are creeping in from time to time.
"You're gona have to excuse me for not focusing (on results). It is a results based business, but there is a process (to get there).
"You might think I'm mad, but I'm going to work on the areas we're good at."
If not for Saturday night's VAR fiasco, Sunday night's high-octane contest at AAMI Park would have been the talking point of Round 2.
Victory's title-defence copped another early season blow, with a second home loss, although they fought back and almost pinched a point.
The frenetic, bruising encounter led to two Victory casualties - Kenny Athiu (strained hamstring) and defender Georg Niedermeier who was concussed after a brave collision with Glory keeper Liam Reddy.
Storm Roux's late header brought the 17,219 crowd into it after coming back from two goals down as Keisuke Honda had Glory's defence in panic with his precision crosses.
But Ikonomidis' late winner secured a 3-2 win and underlined how this Perth Glory team means business, in what could easily be a grand final preview for 2018-19.
Glory gave off the scent of a team that's serious, injecting huge confidence into the WA side who haven't won a domestic title since the National Soccer League days.
Victory were rattled by Glory's pressure in the first half and looked sluggish, reactive and bereft of confidence and ideas.
To merely point the finger at Victory would be doing Glory a disservice, with the visitors' tenacity and discipline the highlight of the first half.
The usually composed Victory, persisting with their 4-4-2 diamond midfield, struggled to put together any significant combination of passes as Glory cleverly shut off the passing lanes to Raul Baena, Terry Antonis and Keisuke Honda.
On the rare occasions Victory did pierce Glory, the stoppers were aggressive and snapping at their heels.
That not only stymied Victory offensively, but led to one of Glory's openers, as Tomislav Mrcela attacked the ball with purpose with Keogh's discipline seeing him track the defender's long header while Victory's defence switched off.
Glory's 3-4-1-2 formation and their gallivanting wingbacks featured prominently in the opener, with Ivan Franjic floating in a dangerous cross that Jason Davidson centred before a sharp Joel Chianese pounced.
Victory made some tactical tweaks at the break, which paid off as they came out with purpose in the second stanza.
Antonis' unleashed a textbook technique within 90 seconds of the restart, scoring via the upright from long-range.
Honda worked his way into the contest and almost backed up his debut goal last week, but Reddy reacted to the star's well-struck long-range shot.
Popovic wasn't playing down the significance of the win for the WA club.
"Delighted. Everyone knows it's a tough place to come, they're the champions for a reason, great team and club,'' Popovic said.
"We knew it wasn't over. The early goal lifted their spirits and the crowd.
"The third goal epitomises what the front three did throughout the game - they were always a threat.
"We're a work in progress, but the intent was quite clear from the players. They were confident and proactive. We're nowhere near the finished article, now it's about backing it up."
Both teams have players returning. Late sub Carl Valeri offers another midfield option, Leigh Broxham remains a strong option plus the big one - Sweden 2018 World Cup striker Ola Toivonen, who they need after Athiu's injury.
Glory have even more to return, headlined by Socceroo Matthew Spiranovic, Johnny Warren medallist Diego Castro, teen sensation Jacob Italiano and super sub Brendon Santalab.
This season's title race is officially open.