Perth Glory played their first game at home for one and a half months as they invited title contenders Melbourne Victory to a sold-out HBF Park, but the hosts couldn’t give their team anything to cheer about on the night as they fell to the reigning champions 2-0.
It was a classic smash-and-grab win for Kevin Muscat’s team with Victory spending long spells of possession camped out in their box. Glory will be disappointed, but they are still far ahead of the pack with the season coming to an end in a few weeks’ time.
They were lucky to go home with three points though as Muscat had few answers to Perth’s rotating front three and they will need to bring a strong performance alongside a good result if they hope to contest in the Asian Champions League and A-League finals.
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Perth retain the fluid front three
In the last meeting between the two teams, where Glory won 2-0, Tony Popovic opted for an attacking trio consisting of Chris Ikonomidis, Diego Castro and Joel Chianese while Andy Keogh was left on the bench. It worked wonders and Victory’s immobile defence could not keep up with the fluidity of their opponents.
After the successes of last time, it was no surprise to see Popovic opting for it again and in-form striker Keogh was once again omitted from the starting 11.
Although the result doesn’t reflect it, the strategy worked once again. Ikonomidis especially wreaked havoc whenever he had the ball and set up Castro and Chianese for a handful of chances. Davidson also found space when he came into the attacking the third on the overlap.
Victory’s back four are quite slow and will almost always lose in a foot race, but Muscat still insists on the defensive line playing quite high. This gives acres of space for the speedy front three to take advantage of and they regularly had chances against goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas which they spurned.
They couldn’t make it count on the night, but that shouldn’t be too dispiriting for Popovic; if they put on their shooting boots, they will be in a much better position for next time.
Victory's diamond midfield controls Kilkenny
Neil Kilkenny has had an exceptional season so far, dictating the tempo from the centre of the park and finding gaps in behind defences.
Not many teams have found a way to neutralise the midfield maestro this season, and Muscat’s midfield diamond didn’t on Saturday night, either.
However, they did the next the best thing, which was limiting his effect on the game. The former Socceroos international still had glimpses where he pierced the defence, but these moments came only in pockets.
Largely because Muscat instructed one of James Troisi or Keisuke Honda to always stay on Kilkenny and not give him too much time on the ball. Troisi in particular, was on Kilkenny whenever Perth had the ball and it meant that the Glory man could never play his game from deep.
In response to Troisi’s tracking, Kilkenny moved further forward so that he could get a bit more room as Troisi didn’t follow him if he went too far forward. This meant that the former Leeds United player couldn’t have space available.
Victory got away… this time
Even though Melbourne were able to track the runs of Kilkenny, this was a game where Victory were outplayed and outsmarted.
The result might say they won 2-0, but when looking at the goals, they came from a free-kick and a dubious penalty decision. This was a game where fortune favoured the Navy Blues but Muscat would be silly to think his team do not have places to improve upon.
Muscat’s team were regularly carved open by the front three and the lack of any coherency between the back four is reason for concern. Muscat continues to chop and change his defence and it is hurting their team.
They have hardly kept a clean sheet all season and although they managed to stop any goals this time, Victory surely won’t be as lucky if they meet down the line in the finals.