Popovic refuses to make excuses following another derby draw

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Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic does not believe his side’s gruelling travel schedule was to blame for their failure to win Saturday night’s derby against Melbourne City.

The two teams came into the game off the back of very different preparation.

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City were afforded a rare week-long rest following last Saturday’s game against Western United, and were expected to come out firing for a second consecutive Melbourne derby.

Meanwhile, Popovic’s side travelled to Japan to play a scintillating 120-minute contest with Vissel Kobe in the AFC Champions League qualifiers, where they were heartbroken as they succumbed to a 4-3 defeat.

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As a result, the navy-blue side only returned to Melbourne on Thursday, giving them just one full day to prepare for the clash.

Despite the significant disadvantage facing the nominal away team, it was Victory who came out the stronger of the sides.

Victory also generated the better chances for the majority of the match, with City’s only real moments of attacking threat occurring at the end of each half.

The goal that City scored came in the 45th minute, just before the half-time break.

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Popovic though was unwilling to attribute his side’s inability to see out both halves to the difficult circumstances.

“I don’t think it is because of that [the travel],” he said.

“Maybe there were elements of that because of what travelling does to you physically, but even without travel you can still be fatigued in the last few minutes of a half.”

Whilst refusing to blame fatigue for his side’s failure to win the contest, Popovic did admit that his players were likely feeling the effects of a difficult week.

“I do think at the end it was clear we were tired,” he said.

“The players have put in a tremendous effort in a short period of time across the two games.

“But I am glad for the players that in the end we didn’t lose the game, because that would have been a real shame considering our effort.”

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The Victory coach is an experienced campaigner and understands the flexibility required to effectively manage a squad.

Those challenges become even more significant when a side is successful, considering the increased burden of extra games from different competitions such as the Champions League.

City are another team juggling the consequences of success, as they strive to finish their home-and-away season prior to their AFC Champions League group stage campaign in April.

Popovic has made no secret of his desire for Victory to return to the continental stage and understands better than most how to overcome the associated obstacles.

“If we want to be a big club that challenges on all fronts we have to deal with these kinds of situations,” Popovic said.

“There was no talk after Wednesday’s game about how fatigued we would be for this game. There was only talk about how we could win the game [tonight].

“I thought the players were outstanding. We definitely deserved something out of the game. I thought we deserved all three points.”

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Both Victory and City have had to manage the challenges of excessive fixtures more than most teams in the A-League Men’s competition.

Their clash on Saturday was likely a product of that fact.

Compared to their thrilling 2-2 Christmas derby draw, the game was somewhat lacking in on-field intensity, despite an impressive crowd of 18,080.

Such are the consequences of another Covid-interrupted season, but for now both sides remain firmly on-track to secure a finals berth come May.

Feature Image Credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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Oscar Rutherford
Oscar Rutherford
Sports tragic studying Law/Arts at Monash University. Second-best paid Oscar working in football who has been to China.

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