Melbourne Victory came up trumps over Western United in Tony Popović’s first Battle of the Bridge after new signing Roderick Miranda sealed the win in the 75th minute with the match’s opening goal.
A cagey opening to the match saw the two sides locked in a close tussle with neither particularly asserting any semblance of dominance. With that said however, Western were the closest to opening the scoring with Dylan Wenzel-Halls forcing a block out of Brendan Hamill in the 44th minute.
The home side also looked to free up Alessandro Diamanti on several occasions with the Italian often stationing himself in the left half-space aiming to draw out Leigh Broxham and create space for others to kickstart attacking sequences. When in possession, Diamanti was ostensibly effective at whipping in crosses to those looking to make late runs into the box.
Soon after the appeals, Western United responded swiftly in the 56th minute with a fantastic run from Lachlan Wales before his cut back with scuffed by former Victory prodigy Connor Pain.
The introductions of Nishan Velupillay and Juventus youth product Francesco Margiotta appeared to add a new lease of life to Victory’s attack with the latter often looking to drop in between the lines and provide a sense of cohesiveness and guile that was missing in the match’s early proceedings.
After Victory gained the ascendancy, the aforementioned Miranda put the boys in blue ahead in the 75th minute after a well powered header at the front post from a Jake Brimmer corner.
In typical Tony Popović fashion, Melbourne Victory sought to drop back and defend in a low block after their goal, inviting opposition pressure. Despite shouts of a penalty after new signing Davidson brought down Diamanti in the box, Victory remained relatively comfortable and claimed a hard-fought victory.
Fans were left wondering why VAR wasn’t used when the referee waved away a Melbourne Victory penalty appeal early in the second half.
The penalty appeal was waved away after Roderick Miranda headed the ball into a stationary defender who he believed had handled the ball in the penalty area. Despite Victory’s appeals, Lachlan Keevers was quick to wave away shouts of a penalty much to the dismay of Victory’s new Portuguese defender.
Melbourne Victory’s playing and supporting contingent were bemused as to why the technology wasn’t used given that the ball appeared to have struck the hand of the on-rushing Western United defender.
Soon after Victory’s opening goal, another penalty shout was waved away at the other end with Alessandro Diamanti certain he was brought down by Jason Davidson in the penalty area.
Despite relentless appeals from Western United’s technical area, referee Keevers denied yet another penalty with VAR again failing to intervene.
A CAGEY OPENING
With both teams sporting a 4-2-3-1 system, only on it appeared as if both teams were more tentative in possession, prioritising safety and pragmatism in order to safeguard the team’s last line. While Western United controlled the line-share of possession, it was Victory who sought to get on the front foot through quick counter attacks and overloads in the penalty area.
The team’s Spanish metronome Rai Marchán often aimed to make darting runs into the box when full-backs Jason Geria and Jason Davidson pushed high and wide with the team’s midfielders often looking to overload Western at the back post when the ball was crossed into the box.
This did not come as a particularly surprising commencement of the match given new manager Tony Popović’s desire to remain compact and resolute out of possession in an ideological framework which prioritised these features over high intensity and high pressing football.
DEFENSIVE SIGNINGS SHINE
Despite the sterile and tight opening, foreign defenders shone at both ends. New Swiss centre-half Leo Lacroix caught the eye for Western United with his marauding runs out of defence. Uncommon for a defender of his height, Lacroix often broke Victory’s first line of pressure with his galloping runs before playing well weighted balls into midfield.
On the opposite end, former Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Roderick Miranda was imperious and calm, often oozing class with his temperament and composure in possession. With Victory struggling to progress the ball through midfield, Roderick also played some impressive diagonals to marquee signing Chris Ikonomidis.
Both defenders often looked to be the main creative threat on their teams at times, such was the drab and lifeless football that pervaded the match’s opening proceedings.
However, most impressive was Lacroix’s composure in defensive situations, often looking to help left full-back Ben Garuccio deal with the threat of Ikonomidis down Victory’s right hand-side.
The Portuguese capped off a calm performance with a well-taken header at the front post to put Melbourne Victory in front in the 75th minute.
A-League Men Round One, GMHBA Stadium
Western United 0
Melbourne Victory 1 (Roderick Miranda 75m)
Image Source: Melbourne Victory
HOW DID THE MANAGERS REACT?
Western United: John Aloisi
“Very positive from our side, I thought we played well and created some good openings…we didn’t feel that we deserved to lose the game,” he said.
“Diamanti and players around him were adamant it was a penalty…sometimes they go for you, sometimes they go against you.”
Melbourne Victory: Tony Popović
“I felt we were poor in the first half…scrappy at times,” he said.
“In the second half I thought we combined better, moved the ball better and looked more of a threat.”