A new man but still a bit of same old, same old

So there we have it. Jim Magilton’s first game in charge of Melbourne Victory. We may all have been hoping for a first up win but unfortunately Adelaide United didn’t get the message and the match ended 1-1 in what was must be said was a very cliched match of two halves.

For those expecting dramatic changes in his first game would have been sadly disappointed as the starting line-up was pretty much the same the played the weekend before against Newcastle with the only change being the inclusion of Adrian Leijer for Petar Franjic, which was hardly a suprising move. What was interesting was Magilton’s use of the bench with Jean Carlos Solorzano, Diogo Ferreira and the aforementioned Franjic being his substitutes. For someone who is probably used to having a larger bench it was interesting that for his substitutes he went for a striker, midfielder and a defender along with the mandatory goalkeeper. It was a fairly conservative choice and I’m sure we will see a different bench once he gets used to having only a four man bench.

As I alluded to in my opening it was a game of two halves as the Victory shot out of blocks at the start of their game as has been their want of late and save for the efforts of Eugene Galekovic, the woodwork and some poor finishing the home team could well have been more than a goal up come the half time whistle. Kewell continued his recent renaissance out of the left and it was his early match trickery that not only set up the first goal but also created a plethora of other chances that unfortunately weren’t converted. He combined well on in the left hand-side with Fabio, who had his best game for the club although apart from a few blemishes has been pretty consistent throughout the season. It wasn’t all just Kewell in that early match dominance with Hernandez, Thompson and Allsopp all looking dangerous.

However as been the case through most of the season the team couldn’t put a whole match together as Adelaide fought their way back into the match and dominated much of the second half, save for a few chances for the Victory. Whilst the first half was full of free-flowing football the second half was in stark contrast as we resorted to long hopeful balls to the forwards as the connection between defence to midfield and beyond seemed to disappear. After a pleasing first half it was a little disappointing to see the team resort to type in the second half as the opposition stepped up their game and for most of the time looked bereft of ideas.

There is obviously plenty of work for Magilton to do in the coming weeks but his first up effort obviously displeased Australia’s self-proclaimed football oracle No. 1 Barcelona fan, Craig Foster who had probably been saving this piece up all week. This prompted a misguided twitter response from Robbie Slater, who is personal friend of Magilton which in turn prompted this well-written response by Mike Tuckerman on The Roar which pretty much summed up the thoughts of most level-headed football supporters who have a dose of reality unlike the aforementioned Foster and Slater.

Magilton era begins tonight

SOCCER Hyundai A-League 2011: 9 January - Adelaide United def Melbourne Victory 4-1

It might be drawing a bit of a long straw but tonight marks a new era in the life and times of Melbourne Victory with Northern Ireland’s Jim Magilton taking charge of his first match of the club against Adelaide United. Appointed as an interim manager in the lead up to last week’s match against Newcastle it will certainly a baptism of fire against one of our fiercest rivals in a must win match.

Magilton’s appointment marked the end of the dysfunctional managerial tenure of Mehmet Durakovic that saw the team only win three matches out of fourteen matches. One has to feel a little sorry for Durakovic, who has been a great servant to Australian football, with much blame for his appointment has to put at the feet of Anthony Di Pietro and his fellow board members. They took the easy option after a supposed “worldwide” search for someone to replace Ernie Merrick by appointing the inexperienced Durakovic to a position that in all honesty was too big for this stage of his coaching career. Not helping matters for Durakovic was having Kevin Muscat by his side, who whether it being intentional or not appeared to be undermining the man in charge. Hopefully for Durakovic’s sake he can pick himself up and we’ll see him in a coaching role somewhere else in the A-League.

Magilton has only been appointed as interim manager to the end of the season, with the remaining twelve matches of the regular season being a test as to whether the Northern Irishman is a good fit for the club and vice versa. Coming off their poor decision to appoint Durakovic this move to only appoint his replacement for the remainder of the season at this stage is a good one and we will look forward to see how it pans out and whether our poor season can be turned around. It certainly has fans talking and excited again nonetheless.

2011 in review

As 2011 draws to its conclusion it’s time again to take a look at the year that was for the Melbourne Victory. It was a year full on drama with an extended off-season break providing plenty of talking points off the pitch whilst the action on the field hasn’t quite hit the high notes that everyone was hoping for at its beginning.

High point of the Year

Both on an off the pitch there has been very few highs as far the Victory are concerned but during the extended off season the launch of the Melbourne Victory kit by adidas and it’s accompanying launch video was one of my high points of the season. It’s just a pity that what has happened on the pitch hasn’t quite matched it.

Low point of the Year

Going out of the finals in the first week for the first ever time was a fairly low point but nothing matches the handling of the dismissal of Ernie Merrick after one ACL match. New chairman Anthony di Pietro’s handling of the whole scenario was nothing short of unprofessional and as I wrote as such at the time for Australian FourFourTwo: “Sacking a manager is a difficult thing but when you announce such a decision how about showing some conviction in the action that you are taking. You looked about convincing as me trying to pass myself off as a football player.”

Game of the Year

Whilst it may not have been exactly pretty the 2-2 draw against Brisbane Roar with only nine men has to be my match of the year. Never have I been at a game where the crowd has got so behind the team as they frustrated the then unbeaten Roar like no team had done before. It was one of those games that should have kick started the season but unfortunately it wasn’t to be as we have spluttered on.

Goal of the Year

There hasn’t been too many highlights in this department this year but it would have to be a toss up between Archie Thompson’s second goal for Brisbane Roar earlier this season or Diogo Ferreira’s almost perfect volley against Wellington Phoenix a couple of weeks ago. However for pure individual brilliance it has to be Thompson’s effort as he not only bamboozled the defender but also former team mate Michael Theoklitos to give Melbourne Victory a 2-1 lead with only ten men.

Signing of the Year

This is pretty much a no contest as nothing comes close to the signing of Harry Kewell. While he is yet to deliver on the pitch Kewell has well and truly delivered off the pitch with two crowds of around 40,000 for our first two home games generating plenty of publicity.

Harry Kewell Shirt Presentation

Coaching decision of the Year

2011 definitely wasn’t a year of game changing coaching decisions but whoever was responsible for the signing of Ante Covic on the eve of the first game of the season has to get some credit. Time and time again the giant keeper has come to the rescue of the team and without him we would be a much worse position that we already are at the moment.

Best favour from an opposition player

There hasn’t been too many of these this year but Brett Emerton’s penalty in the first match of the season that was saved by Ante Covic has to be this best favour from an opposition player for the year. If we had a lost that one we probably would have been in a slightly worse position than we already are at the moment.

Getting out of jail but no thanks to you Mr Vargas

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It was with some irony that Melbourne Victory’s first home win of the season coincided with the first home game of the season that I was unable to attend due to a clash with a Grand Final that my futsal team* was playing.

Whilst it was a win that came at the end of probably the most tumultuous weeks in the short history of Melbourne Victory one must remember that this a win against a side sitting bottom of the ladder and with the worst defensive record in the league. It was also a game where the Victory when cruising at 2-0 up endeavoured to do their best to actually lose the game. First up, veteran Rodrigo Vargas decided he wanted an early shower with a two-footed challenge on the half-way line with a little over thirty minutes gone on the clock. To say Vargas should have known better is a massive understatement with the incident giving Gold Coast United the incentive to claw their way back into the game. This was followed by a rather soft penalty (it was a penalty just the Victory’s first two goals were penalties) on the stroke of half time which gave Gold Coast some much need momentum going into the second half.

Shortly after the break some lax defending saw Gold Coast equalise and you could almost hear the collective groan coming from AAMI Park in my lounge room as fans watched the team again throw away another two goal lead. Fortunately for the Victory they had come up against a team that quite clearly doesn’t know how to win and even with all of Miron Bleiberg’s so-called tactical genius couldn’t find that all important third goal against a Victory side that had gone to rabble following Vargas’ sending off. It seemed as if the home side suddenly realised that opponents didn’t have both the manpower or the will to actually win the game as both Carlos Hernandez and Archie Thompson rolled back the years (to be fair to Thompson, he’s been in outstanding form all season) and created a number of chances before the two combined for the winner in the 79th minute. Who would have thought that Hernandez could out jump three opponents.

Whilst one win doesn’t a title challenge make one pleasing aspect was the form of Billy Celeski, who looked more than the player of three seasons ago rather than the shadow of a player that existed since his return from a knee reconstruction. Whilst Ernie Merrick might have turned him into one of the best defensive midfielders of that title winning season, it seemed on a Sunday that Celeski relished a more attacking role, one that he was more accustomed to before arriving in our fair town. The result was a much more confident display than we have seen in at least one and a half seasons or maybe it just taken him that long to get over what was a quite a serious knee injury.

Next up is a clash with the Newcastle Jets, a team against which the Victory notoriously struggle against especially on their home turf. If Durakovic has indeed turned the season around then next week is surely a true test as to whether that is really the case.

* - for the record my futsal team lost the Grand Final 7-6 in extra time.

Disheartened and smelling like a Frankston bogan

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Back in Melbourne Victory’s first season I watched them play four consecutive matches at home and not score a single goal. Last Sunday’s match was worse than that. I have watched Melbourne Victory lose a penalty shootout in a Grand Final. The feeling after last Sunday’s match was worse than that. Last year I watched Melbourne Victory lose the first ever Melbourne derby. Last Sunday’s result was worse than that.

Never have I seen a Melbourne Victory side look so disjointed as it did against Perth Glory. Two weeks ago with nine men against the Brisbane Roar, the Victory showed a spirit not shown in a long, long time. At the time both players and coach labelled the result as a “turning of the corner” and so if we are to continue the driving analogy then Sunday’s effort has to be called a “massive U-turn” that has sent us completely in the wrong direction. It was a result in the end that inevitably cost Francis Awaritefe his job as Director of Football.

The result in many respects flattered the home side with a slightly controversial sending off and a just plain wrong penalty giving the Victory both a man and goal advantage that they didn’t really deserve. When Danny Allsopp made it 2-0 it felt like a hollow lead, although not it seems to the person in the South End who thought it necessary to throw their bourbon and coke into the air, most of which seemed to land on me. Not only was I feeling disheartened about the team’s performance on the pitch but now I also smelt like someone who had just had a big night at the now defunct 21st Century Dance Club.

Even with a two goal advantage it never actually seemed that Melbourne Victory were in the game and when Andrezinho curled in that well-taken free kick it seemed only a matter of time that Perth Glory would eventually grab an equaliser. And with three minutes left in normal time that man Shane Smeltz popped up with the winner after some pretty lax defending left him unmarked at the back post. It was disappointing rather than surprising.

The result left Melbourne Victory in seventh position with only eight points and whilst many have been quick to point out that they are only three points behind second placed Central Coast Mariners it is more the manner in which the team has played so far this season that has many fans calling for the head of coach Mehmet Durakovic with his efforts in the post-match press conference not doing a whole lot to instill any confidence.  It’s not just the team isn’t winning, it’s that it doesn’t actually look like winning.

Victory in Melbourne does Movember

It’s Movember again and time to focus on men’s health. To show Victory in Melbourne’s commitment, I am donating my face to the cause by growing a moustache for the entire month of November, and I need your support. My Mo will spark conversations, looks of horror and no doubt generate some laughs; all in the name of raising vital awareness and funds for prostate cancer male depression.

Why am I so passionate about men’s health?

  • 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime
  • This year 20,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed
  • 1 in 8 men will experience depression in their lifetime

I’m asking you to support my Movember campaign by making a donation by either:

  • Donating online at: http://mobro.co/NeilZimmerman
  • Writing a cheque payable to ‘Movember,’ referencing my Registration ID: 58313 and mailing it to: Movember, PO Box 60, East Melbourne, VIC, 8002

Funds raised will help make a tangible difference to the lives of others. Through the Movember Foundation and its men’s health partners, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue – the national depression initiative, they are funding world class research, educational and support programs which would otherwise not be possible.

If you’d like to find out more about the type of work you’d be helping to fund by supporting Movember, take a look at the Programs We Fund section on the Movember website: http://au.movember.com/about

Thank you in advance for supporting my efforts to change the face of men’s health. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.

A Victory Fan Abroad - Part Two

In the second and final part of my chat with former Chicago Fire CEO, Peter Wilt we switch our attention to comparisons between the A-League and the MLS and look at the possibility of Wilt making his way down under. You can read it all here on Australian FourFourTwo.

A Victory Fan Abroad - Part One

Recently I discovered that I was being followed on twitter by Peter Wilt, former Chicago Fire CEO who had in recent times become a Melbourne Victory fan. I was a little intrigued as to why a key figure in Major League Soccer I decided to follow Melbourne Victory I decided to ask Wilt a few questions with the result being a two part piece for Australian FourFourTwo. You can now read the first part here.

Formation, structure & enough space for a cow

Since Melbourne Victory’s rather insipid performance Melbourne Heart on the weekend much has been said about structure and formation with every Tom, Dick and Harry (including myself) having a crack at what we think Mehmet Durakovic should do in terms of formation. In light of this I thought I would share with you all a comparison of what happened on Saturday night and my possible solution

Melbourne Victory formation vs Melbourne Heart

Melbourne Victory formation vs. Melbourne Heart (22 Oct 2011)*

MVFC Formation

Victory In Melbourne’s possible future Melbourne Victory formation

* NB. A cow has been has used as a symbol of how much space we left in the midfield, and is no way a reflection on Carlos Hernandez’s weight

In search of the right combination

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Two games, one point, zero goals. It’s not exactly the start we would have liked down in here sunny Melbourne with the only joy being taken in the fact the Heart have yet to earn themselves a point. A very small point of joy indeed.

Whilst many are calling for Durakovic’s head already I believe it all comes down to finding the right combination and where to play that man Kewell. The back four remained unchanged from the weekend before and despite Fabio’s mistake for the second week in a row that this time costing a goal it is the combination that our manager has actually got right. This however will be tested next week with the absence of our captain from the line-up. Hopefully from our point of view, Franjic gets another chance to impress as did when called upon last year.

Moving forward up the field, Leigh Broxham and Grant Brebner were played at the base of the midfield with the returning Carlos Hernandez playing in a central role. Interchanging on both flanks were Archie Thompson and Marco Rojas with Kewell playing the lone man up front. Whilst the lone striker is good in theory, especially on the road, it didn’t exactly work against an impressive Adelaide back four. What was key to Kewell’s performance from the week before was ability to link with the striker as well as those out wide. Playing as a lone striker left him completely isolated and unable to influence the match in any way shape or form. What will be key to Melbourne’s form this season is how Kewell and Hernandez can be both slotted into the midfield. But until both are properly match fit it might be a good idea to have only one in there for the time being.

As the match itself after short period of dominance, the Victory became very disjointed as Adelaide started to impose themselves on the game. Their defence, which looks one of the best in the league, shut down almost all opportunities and having Kewell, who is not a natural striker, as the out-and-out striker played a little into their hands. When Solorzano made it out on the pitch we did look a little better, but by then the horse had well and truly bolted, especially after the sending off of Leijer. Adelaide’s solitary goal came from a simple mistake and the Victory did well to hold them out for the last thirty or so minutes being a man down through a combination of luck, poor Adelaide finishing and some good defending. It wasn’t quite the pillaging that Fox Sports commentator John Kosmina alluded to but it wasn’t exactly great either.

Next week it is the derby and both teams have a lot riding on the outcome, considering our relative positions on the table. Where Melbourne will win it, will be in the front third and hopefully it’s third time lucky as Durakovic looks for the right attacking combination.