Ange Postecoglou’s Melbourne Victory were determined to deliver on Australia Day against Sydney FC in the matchup the local press call “Big Blue.” The Friday before the game, the boss was confident that his players would get down to business early and often.
“It’s the big stage. Individuals and teams get tested on the big stage,” Postecoglou told Dejan Kalinic for melbournevictory.com.au. “So as we’re getting into the pointy end of the season, games will get bigger and bigger with more and more importance and tomorrow night’s a little bit of a dress rehearsal to see how we cope with all that.
“I’m pretty confident with the way the players are travelling and we’re travelling as a team that we’ll be up for it. Sydney are going OK, we’re travelling all right so it gives an extra edge to the game. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Adding to the intrigue was the fact that both women’s teams were meeting in the 2012-13 W-League Grand Final on Sunday. Nonetheless, midfielder Mark Milligan believe that the men would hold their own against Alessandro Del Piero and the Sky Blues. And some.
“I think it’s a squad that has championship characteristics,” Milligan told James Ranson for melbournevictory.com.au. “We try and play a passing game but last week in Perth we really dug deep, it was a hard trip over there. Eight or nine weeks ago if we had of played like that we would have copped three or four (goals). It was nice to get three points but was disappointing the way we went about it so we’ll be looking to redeem ourselves this week.”
Milligan knows all too well that Sydney FC starts and ends with Del Piero so the Victory needed to limit his production and value on the pitch. Of course, the Victory believes Sydney’s supporting cast is a liability.
“On the weekend they showed with Joel Griffiths coming in and (Jason) Culina and (Brett) Emerton, especially in that final third they’re very, very dangerous – they’ve got quality all across the pitch,” Milligan said of Melbourne’s last Big Blue encounter. “I don’t think Del Piero would have had those chances he did if it wasn’t for the quality around him.
“He’s an unbelievable player, but unless the players around him are chipping in it’s difficult for him.”
In front of 26,882 at AAMI Park, the Victory belted a Sydney FC side that played down to nine men by match’s end, 3-1. To add insult to sendoff, midfielder Brett Emerton had to be subbed out in the 23rd minute due to a hamstring injury.
Sydney’s Sebastian Ryall scored an own goal in the 24th minute to open up the scoring. Archie Thompson made it 2-0 in the 67th minute and Marco Rojas slammed the door shut in the 72nd minute of play. Joel Griffiths gave Sydney a consolation goal in the 75th minute but by then, the damage had already been done.
Unsurprisingly, the play of Rojas drew praise from Postecoglou after the match.
“For young players, you look at them overcoming challenges, that was a pretty big challenge today with all the focus and apparently there are a couple thousand scouts watching him,” Postecoglou told Bren O’Brien for melbournevictory.com.au. “The fact that he can perform like that shows that if there are any question marks about him stepping up to a bigger stage, I think he answered them today.”
With two-thirds of the A-League regular season in the books, the pace starts to accelerate. Up next for the Victory is a showdown with rivals Melbourne Heart in the City Derby on Feb. 2 at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne.