Last Saturday Melbourne Victory emerged victorious in the Hyundai A-League Grand Final over Newcastle Jets, winning their fourth A-League crown and setting a record as the first team to go from fourth to the Golden Toilet Seat. What’s more, Kevin Muscat’s side ended the hopes of rivals Melbourne City in terms of qualifying for the AFC Champions League.
In this column, we’ll take a look at the victorious Melbourne Victory squad and their season.
GOALKEEPER – LAWRENCE THOMAS
The Joe Marston Medal winner has been Victory’s undisputed number one this season and has performed admirably particularly in the big games at the end of the season. He made several impressive saves in the Final Series against Adelaide United, Sydney FC and was a worthy Joe Marston Medal winner for his shift against Newcastle Jets where he his reactions came to the fore.
LEFT-BACK – LEIGH BROXHAM
A versatile player who can play pretty much anywhere across the defence and central midfield, Broxham was moved to left-back in 2016/17 and hasn’t put a foot wrong during two seasons in what can be described as an unnatural position for the Melbournian. He has put in consistent and reliable performances in 35 games for the club in 2017/18, a statistic that only striker Besart Berisha and goalkeeper Thomas can match.
RIGHT-BACK – STEFAN NIGRO
When Rhys Williams pulled out of the semi-final in the warm up, Kevin Muscat rotated his troops with Thomas Deng moving into the middle of defence and Nigro coming in to take the right-back role. Only 21-years-old, he has done his time in the reserves from 2015 – 2017 before being called up to the first team this year. He is a natural midfielder but held his own against both Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets, despite Riley McGree and Ronnie Vargas constantly swapping wings. He was substituted for Matías Sánchez on 77 minutes.
CENTRE-BACK – THOMAS DENG
The recipient of the spot reserved for Rhys Williams went to Deng in central defence, who has been Victory’s right-back following Jason Geria’s departure. Still fresh in the mind is the amazing goal he scored against Western Sydney Wanderers at the end of March, cutting in from the right and striking the ball with a sweet connection on his right foot. His versatility was vital in covering for Williams, who was forced to watch from the stands. Despite one or two nervy moments, Deng came through to help Victory maintain a clean sheet.
CENTRE-BACK – JAMES DONACHIE
The senior man in defence for the semi-final and final was the newly blonde James Donachie, but the former Brisbane Roar man stood out for his mature and composed performance as much as his hairstyle. Donachie made several important clearances, especially impressive against the Newcastle Jets attack which led them to second in the A-League regular season. His header created the controversy, assisting Barbarouses’ goal from an offside position.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD – TERRY ANTONIS
Despite starting the season out of the team, Antonis profited from the sale of Mark Milligan at the end of January to Al-Ahli. His story centred around the emotional semi-final where he conceded a last minute own goal before running half the length of the field to score the winning goal. The final felt very much ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ but in the second half was vital to keeping the Jets at bay alongside his midfield partner.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD – CARL VALERI
The Victory captain was Antonis’ partner and had a fairly poor first half, losing possession and being overrun by the likes of Vargas and Petratos. Whatever Kevin Muscat said at half time worked a treat because after the break he defended astutely and protected the Victory backline. As Victory captain he congratulated his opponents before thanking fans and sponsors before lifting the Golden Toilet Seat.
ATTACKING MIDFIELD – JAMES TROISI
Troisi will probably be the most dissatisfied Melbourne Victory player after failing to influence the game behind Berisha as he would have liked. Troisi likes to get on the ball and dictate play, which was stifled by the Jets controlling midfield and dominating possession. He did well to work his way into the game in the second half but still was ineffective.
LEFT WING – LEROY GEORGE
It’s been a wonderful campaign for the Dutchman, registering twelve goals and generally delivering balls of quality be it from free-kicks or in general play. He is one of the two best wingers in the league and while he didn’t see a great deal of the ball in the Grand Final, he did what Leroy George does and affected the outcome with the free-kick from which Barbarouses scored.
RIGHT WING – KOSTA BARBAROUSES
Also one of the two best wingers in the league, Kosta Barbarouses has been involved in some fairly controversial moments this season including being sent off for a stamp against Western Sydney Wanderers. Like Leroy George on the opposite flank, some of his best work was tracking back and ensuring that the Jets didn’t double up on the Victory full-backs. He was in the right place at the right time to notch the fastest goal scored in an A-League Grand Final.
STRIKER – BESART BERISHA
Previous to this Grand Final, ‘Big Game Besart’ had scored in every other final appearance but he was shackled well by the Newcastle Jets defence. Berisha is a constant threat and has been throughout the season with 18 goals to his name, after all he is the A-League all-time leading marksman. The future is unknown for Berisha, a cryptic statement following the final about his successes led many Victory fans to wonder if Bes will still be at the club for the 2018/19 season.
SUBSTITUTE – MATHIAS SANCHEZ
The Argentinian was the only Victory substitute utilised by Kevin Muscat, which is surprising considering that Kenny Athiu was on the bench and Berisha looked tired towards the latter stages. Sanchez came on for Stefan Nigro to maintain his record of appearing in all three finals matches for Victory and immediately began running the clock down, at one point claiming cramp despite only entering the field moments before.
MANAGER – KEVIN MUSCAT
The Melbourne Victory had a plan, much like he had one for the semi-final against Sydney FC. In the early stages it was a smash-and-grab raid, soaking up pressure and getting in front thanks to Kosta Barbarouses’ disputed goal. After that it was a case of defending well with Deng, Donachie, Broxham and Negro supplemented by Terry Antonis and Carl Valeri, who had less license than they would have normally to get forward. Muscat continues to divide opinion amongst Victory supporters but can rest easy this summer not only armed with his new contract agreed in March but with the A-League Trophy.