Defence is once again Tony Popovic’s not-so-secret ingredient for success

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The battle of the bridge seemed destined for goals. In fact, with the attacking talent of Alessandro Diamanti, Chris Ikonimidis and Aleksandar Prijovic a scrappy affair wouldn’t have been predicted by many people.

Yet, in typical Tony Popovic fashion that is what the game turned out to be. He has built a successful managerial career on the basis of good team defence. At Western Sydney Wanderers it resulted in Australia’s first ever AFC Champions League trophy.

Al Hilal – the Saudi Arabian powerhouse beaten in the final – were one of the highest scoring in the tournament, with 12 goals in the group stages alone. But based on the foundations of a Tony Popovic defence, Western Sydney kept clean sheets in both legs.

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It’s not a one-off either. At Perth Glory in the 2018/19 A-League Men season, Popovic’s side conceded a league best 23 goals. It has built the foundations for success at every club he has been at.

By no means does this guarantee an A-League men championship or AFC Champions League success for Melbourne Victory. But, for Victory fans that have suffered through consecutive disappointing seasons without a finals appearance, it’s a massive step in the right direction.

The old cliché is that good teams win games that they perhaps don’t deserve to. For Victory, that is exactly what this game represents. It wasn’t quite a highway robbery, but no-one would have batted an eyelid at a 0-0 draw.

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In fact, Western United had more possession (54%), shots (12-10), and corners (4-3). Yet the scoreline is the only statistic that matters, and Victory won that 1-0.

“First and foremost, we’re pleased to win the game. I think that was the most important thing. We know we didn’t play so well in the first half, I felt with the ball, but we stayed in the game,” Popovic said.

Eight of Victory’s starting 11 were new recruits brought in throughout this off-season. It takes time to gel, but picking up results along the way will be crucial to the club’s hopes for a top-four spot.

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“It was a tough first half of football for both teams, we’ve barely played for so long, it’s our first competitive game so scrappy at times but happy that we were solid as a unit and we looked well organised,” Popovic said.

“In the second half, I felt we improved and we combined a lot better, moved the ball better and looked more of a threat so overall, 1-0 win, I’m delighted away from home.”

The success of imports usually goes a long way to determining the triumph of a team. In line with Popovic’s defensive mentality, former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Olympiacos star Roderick Miranda was brought in.

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Whilst it may only be one game, his impact can’t be understated. Victory were the leakiest team in the league last season, with a goal difference of minus 29. Not only did he help keep a clean sheet against Western United, but also scored the winner after heading in from Jake Brimmer’s near post corner.

“He’s a quality player that will only get better. He will also get better with his fitness but you could see tonight there’s a quality footballer and he scored a fantastic goal as well,” Popovic said.

This is the kind of stability that Victory fans have been craving. It showed at full-time, as every single Victory player went over to applaud the fans.

In what has been an unusual tradition in recent memory, several players including Jason Davidson and Ivan Kevala also gave away their playing shirts to fans in the crowd.

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It is a sign of unity that has been missing. The intensity has increased and the work rate has visibly improved upon last season. Fans are back on board and once again looking forward to attending games.

The special ingredient to bring it back…Tony Popovic.

Whilst they may not play the prettiest football or score the most amazing goals, three points is three points. It is a warning to the rest of the competition that the Vuck are back.

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Dillon Izon
Marketing graduate at Monash University. Sports addicted, fan of Manchester United and Melbourne City. My gran “knows” Gareth Bale.

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