It was supposed to be their toughest period of the season, but three wins in 12 days has Melbourne Victory cherry ripe for a crack at A-League leaders Brisbane Roar this weekend.
Coach Kevin Muscat has pulled off a remarkable juggling act, rotating his squad skilfully to ensure neither the A-League or ACL ball is dropped as they compete on two fronts.
Muscat’s formula has certainly worked so far – after overcoming Central Coast and Perth in successive A-League games, their mid-week Asian Champions League (ACL) matches have also been productive – a 2-2 draw with Jeonbuk Motors followed up by Tuesday evening’s 1-0 win over Yokohama.
The Yokohama win was made all the more impressive by leaving captain Mark Milligan and fellow Socceroo Tom Rogic on the bench.
While both appeared for the final stages of the game, Muscat said it was never an easy decision to leave key players on the bench but he felt his starting 11 were good enough to win.
“The decisions aren’t made lightly,” he said.
“There’s no doubt I want to play my best team possible.”
Perhaps the best example of his rotation policy working was Archie Thompson’s last minute winner against Perth after being rested, but Muscat preferred to highlight the solid contributions from youngsters Dylan Murnane, Jimmy Jeggo and Lawrence Thomas.
“It’s difficult, go and ask the boys,” Muscat said. “It’s a hard slog.”
“We had to withstand a barrage of pressure.”
Even more impressive was the clean sheet kept against Yokohama – Victory’s first in 17 games to end a streak dating back to early December.
“It’s been a long time, a long time coming … but whilst we’ve been conceding goals, we have been winning games,” Muscat said in defence of his record.
Whether Victory can advance to the ACL’s next stage will be clearer in a fortnight when they play Yokohama in Japan.
A maiden overseas win for Victory would get them half-way there, a point would certainly help.
“We needed to win today… it keeps us alive,” Muscat said.
“If we can win our last home game and pick up some points on the road, who knows where that’s going to take us.”