WINDLEY’S MAN OF THE MATCH
MELBOURNE Victory is yet to concede a goal to an opposition player this season.
But Kevin Muscat’s men still managed to come out on the wrong side of the ledger in its season-opener last night, losing 1-0 to Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium after the most unlucky of second-half own goals off defender Thomas Deng.
It meant there would be no grand final revenge for Victory, with Sydney extending to five its winning streak against its southern rival.
The undermanned hosts, missing Mark Milligan, James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses to international duty, put in a performance that would suggest they are again likely to be one of Sydney’s chief rivals for the title — especially when at full strength.
But the dogged Sky Blues were able to hold Victory at bay in an interesting rather than absorbing contest in front of 24,804 fans.
Luke Wilkshire struggled at times in the first half, but the former Socceroos full back was instrumental in the game’s sole goal.
His 53rd-minute cross in the direction of Alex Brosque was pinpoint. And although Brosque could only get the slightest of headers on it, the deflection was enough to throw off a desperately unlucky Deng, who could only watch in horror as the ball ricocheted off his shin and past a stranded Lawrence Thomas.
Wilkshire almost made it 2-0 four minutes later, after an exquisite Milos Ninkovic backheel played him through, but was denied by Thomas.
Sydney was off the pace for the first 25 minutes or so, but once it got a foot in the game Graham Arnold’s team largely appeared in control, carving out the lion’s share of the chances and winning the possession battle.
But there were bright spots for Victory, in particular the debut of Leroy George.
Recruited primarily as a winger, the Dutchman was used in the No.10 role last night with Troisi away and his third-minute nutmeg of Wilkshire had fans chanting “Leroy, Leroy” right away.
From there on his 65-min-
(Sydney FC) New teammate Adrian Mierzejewski also shone, but Ninkovic just shaded it after picking up where he left off in last season’s Johnny Warren Medalwinning campaign. ute display was eye-catching and Kevin Muscat appears to have found a gem, especially if, as he himself conceded, he still has a long way to go in terms of match fitness.
His substitution brought about an A-League debut for 19-year-old Hobart product Josh Hope, who also appeared lively throughout his cameo.
Also making his first appearance in Victory colours, former Perth stopper Rhys Williams looked exceptionally strong at the back.
Milligan, Troisi and Barbarouses will be back for next Saturday night’s derby against Melbourne City at Etihad. KEVIN Muscat isn’t “ringing any alarm bells” after Melbourne Victory suffered a 1-0 loss to Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium last night.
The Victory boss lauded the debut of Dutch recruit Leroy George, who starred in his 65minute first outing despite Muscat revealing he was nowhere near ideal fitness level.
And Muscat also said Argentine recruit Matias Sanchez was likely to be fit for Saturday’s Melbourne derby after missing last night with a hamstring niggle.
Victory will also get back internationals Mark Milligan, James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses, who were all unavailable last night.
In a tightly contested grand final rematch, the only goal between the sides was a Thomas Deng own goal early in the second half.
“Alarm bells aren’t ringing because we gave as good as we got,” Muscat said.
“There was very, very little in the game. In the first period we created a lot of opportunities where some more quality in that last pass would have created a goal scoring opportunity.
“In the second half we knocked and knocked and (Sydney) defended desperately because they had to.”
Muscat said there was no need to wrap an arm around Deng, who he was impressed with at left back despite the own goal. George has been recruited as a winger, but last night played the attacking midfield role left vacant by the missing Troisi.
Muscat said the fact George played so well was a credit to him given he only arrived two weeks ago and insisted the team wouldn’t see the best of him for a few weeks yet.
“I think it was a bit harsh on him having to put him out there,” he said.
“But the circumstances are the circumstances. We needed to get close to 60 minutes out of him. The glimpses we had of him were very, very good, especially in the first half.
“I think we probably could have utilised him a lot more a lot early and he would have caused a lot more damage.
“A pleasing debut for him.”
Leroy George had the Melbourne Victory fans chanting his name within minutes of his A-League debut in the loss to Sydney FC last night. Picture: JOE CASTRO/AAP Milos Ninkovic