Melbourne Victory buried their opening-night hoodoo in emphatic fashion at Etihad Stadium on Friday, thumping Western Sydney 4-1 to register their first Round 1 win since 2006-07.
The hosts were 3-0 up inside the first 30 minutes, bringing last term’s beaten grand finalists the Wanderers, on a high after reaching the AFC Champions League final but sluggish in this curtain-raiser, crashing back down to earth and leaving coach Tony Popovic with plenty of work to do ahead of next week’s derby against Sydney FC.
Victory though can go away to bitter rivals Adelaide United with plenty of optimism after their new recruits – Besart Berisha, Matthieu Delpierre, Daniel Georgievski and Carl Valeri – combined well with familiar faces like Archie Thompson and Leigh Broxham to produce a razor-sharp display.
WHAT THEY SAID
Besart Berisha: “It’s always good the first game to win. But what was really important for us was the way we played. From the first minute. I’m very happy with the performance. We had a really tough pre-season and we’re so happy that everything in the game was how we expected.”
Mark Bridge: “Maybe we weren’t as confident at the back as we usually are. They’re a good side and got a lead we couldn’t catch. Popa’s got a plan in place and that doesn’t change. We’ll have a look at where we went wrong and see if we can put it right before the derby.”
Victory took a deserved lead through A-League debutant Delpierre, who showed great technique – for a centre-back – to volley home Guilherme Finkler’s free-kick at the near post in the eighth minute.
The hosts doubled their lead in the 19th minute, with another newcomer – star striker Berisha – earning a penalty and converting from the spot following Anthony Golec’s handball.
It was 3-0 as early as the 28th minute, Broxham smashing home on the rebound after Kosta Barbarouses saw his shot saved by Ante Covic.
The Wanderers pulled one back against the run of play when Labinot Haliti’s hooked ball forward eluded the Victory defence, allowing Mark Bridge to smash past Nathan Coe, who got a touch but was unable to keep it out.
Having been gifted possession by Golec, Valeri found Berisha, who in turn played in Thompson for a simple finish past Covic to restore Victory’s three-goal cushion.
Lured south from Brisbane Roar for big money, Berisha delivered instantly, tucking away an early penalty and demonstrating his poise in front of goal to leave the Wanderers reeling. Having a natural finisher at centre-forward could make all the difference for Victory in 2014-15.
The stand-out moment of the game arrived just before the 30-minute mark, when Kosta Barbarouses, played in behind the Wanderers’ backline, checked inside from the by-line before dancing past two defenders and unleashing the strike that led to Broxham’s goal, effectively sealing the win with an hour still to go. Sublime.
THE FINAL WORD
Victory’s aggressive recent recruitment drive – starting with the Berisha coup and seeing them sign experienced, quality players like Valeri and Delpierre, bore serious dividends on Friday night. More performances like this and the Big V could finally be back where they think they belong at the end of the season.
Melbourne Victory: Coe, Geria, Georgievski (Mahazi 86′), Leijer, Delpierre, Broxham, Valeri, Finkler, Barbarouses (Ben Khalfallah 71′), Thompson (Pain 63′), Berisha.
Western Sydney: Covic, Cole, Mullen, Galekovic, Hamill, Poljak, La Rocca (Trifiro 46′), Bridge, Haliti, Appiah-Kubi (Saba 46′), Santalab (Castelen 68′).
Scorers: Delpierre (8′), Berisha (19′, pen), Broxham (28′), Bridge (41′), Thompson (54′)
Red cards: N/A
Yellow cards: Broxham (3′), La Rocca (37′), Delpierre (59′), Cole (65′), Ben Khalfallah (74′)
Conditions: 21°C, dry.