Finals football is on the A-League horizon. Theory goes out of the window, tactical niceties are forgotten and it’s win at all costs as the pressure is on to secure a spot in the play-offs or make the championship-decider.
Well, no, at least not according to Kevin Muscat, as he supervises his Melbourne Victory team for its final game of the regular season at home to Central Coast Mariners on Friday night.
The Victory boss is preparing his side for the most decisive few weeks of the campaign but he is not fretting over Victory’s fate in any sudden-death scenario.
Muscat said the most important factor for him and his team is to keep on doing what it has done all season – concentrate on the processes and the performances and trust his players’ proven abilities and the tactics that have seen Victory secure second place on the ladder.
Things won’t change just because the team is in a sudden-death situation.
“If we are just worried about results and come away from what we have been trying to do, working on and practicing over a long period of time, we will rely heavily on luck,” he said.
“Over a period of time performance is what counts. That’s what’s going to reward you with results.
“I am not going to steer away from that … I am not going to rely on luck.”
The logic behind his “stay calm and trust yourselves” mantra is straightforward.
“When we do score goals and we do win, we need to understand how and why, and the reason for that is so that we can reproduce it. If we don’t understand that, well, its bloody hard to reproduce,” Muscat said.
“Without doubt it’s important to win. I am not trying to put a performance together not to win, but we do believe that when we perform anywhere near our capabilities the result normally looks after itself.”
Having said that, the coach acknowledged it is important for Victory to approach the finals with some momentum.
Muscat’s side has taken only four points from its last 15, suffering three defeats along the way, including one of its worst home performances in memory when it crashed 3-0 to Wellington Phoenix. It has not scored in its last three games, its worst record in six years.
To some extent such slackness might be explained by the fact that Victory have been guaranteed second spot on the table and the home semi-final that goes with it for several weeks now. Still, the fans are showing some nervousness, even if their coach is not.
“I am not concerned. Our form over 26 weeks has been bloody good, but over three weeks maybe not so good,” he said.
“If we look at last week [a 0-0 draw in Western Sydney, where Victory played the bulk of the second half with 10 men after Daniel Georgievski’s dismissal] and talk about form … for 50 minutes away to Western Sydney who had scored three goals in their last three games, we completely dominated and created a number of chances.
“In the remaining 40 minutes [after Georgievski’s red card] we showed a lot of grit, care and determination not to concede. There were a lot of positives to come out of last week.”
Muscat accepts that the departure of Oliver Bozanic, the oft maligned marquee midfielder, has come at some on-field cost as Victory no longer have quite the same offensive drive from midfield. Rashid Mahazi, Carl Valeri and Leigh Broxham are much more defensively-oriented midfielders than Bozanic, who moved to the J League.
“Ollie had some good performances here. But everyone was judging him based on some status [marquee player] that everyone gets excited about. He was good for us, but we made a calculated decision to go down the route we did knowing we would have less depth,” Muscat explained.
The versatile Leigh Broxham – “he’s tried and trusted” – will most likely fill the left-back spot in Georgievski’s absence through suspension.
“He has passed with flying colours when he has had to do it in the past. We could look at Stef Nigro as well but it’s an unfamiliar position for him, probably wouldn’t do him any favours,” said Muscat.
“I felt Rashid was very good for his first game for a while. Defensively he was very good for us, setting up and not allowing Western Sydney to get any momentum.”
Central Coast could still take the wooden spoon if they lose in Melbourne and Adelaide beat Western Sydney or Newcastle upsets Sydney.
Muscat remains wary of the threat they pose, particularly with their speedy attacking players.
“They scored off a set-piece last week, but in transition they have got some lively players. Fabio Ferreira joining in the attack, Conor [Pain, an ex-Victory winger] we know about, they always have pace with [Trent] Buhagiar, [Kwabena] Appiah on the right.”