Melbourne Victory had its first win in four A-League outings and three in pre-season against Adelaide United at Olympic Park on Friday night. Despite the competition being a summer one, the game-time temperature of nine degrees (celsius) was ample evidence the southern city is still to shake off its winter.
Victory captain Kevin Muscat opened the scoring by converting a penalty on the half-hour after Alessandro had been tripped in the area. Claudinho followed-up a Danny Allsopp shot twelve minutes from time for the second and sealing goal.
"We've gone seven games against Melbourne undefeated", said Adelaide coach John Kosmina after the game. "So the odds are going to be stacked against you, aren't they?"
"Melbourne were pumped up for this game. (Victory was) probably a hungrier side", said Kosmina.
"The boys were certainly pumped", said Victory coach Ernie Merrick, clearly looking forward to next week's blockbuster against Sydney at Docklands. "Book your (Round two) tickets early."
Adelaide's Michael Valkanis had a torrid beginning, cautioned before the quarter-hour for a trip on Archie Thompson, then almost putting the ball into his own net from a Thompson cross four minutes later. Thompson had chased down a ball played into pace up the right by Simon Storey which flat-footed a pressing United back-line. Thompson sped to the goal-line before sending in a low cross which Valkanis sought to clear, only to skew his attempt onto the crossbar and perilously close to the line on its rebound.
If the night started poorly for Valkanis, worse was in store for fellow defender Ritchie Alagich. Alessandro had bamboozled Alagich at the far side of the penalty-area and seemed to have wriggled clear until Alagich brought him down to concede a penalty just before the half-hour. After a short delay to allow treatment to the felled Brazilian, Muscat coolly converted.
Thompson almost doubled the score as the first-half drew to a close, but Robert Cornthwaite cleared off the line with goalkeeper Robert Bajic beaten.
Adelaide should have equalised shortly after when Ross Aloisi, having been fed by Aaron Goulding, found himself in space near the front edge of the six-yard box. With Michael Theoklitos hopelessly exposed, and committed to a direct line, Aloisi slipped it right to Travis Dodd. Inexplicably, Dodd - who had performed with distinction as a newly-installed Socceroo in the Asian Cup win over Kuwait less than a fortnight before - found the side-netting with the goal gaping.
"Travis might have been offside anyway", said Kosmina making the best of the situation. "But the fact is, he should have put it in the back of the net. Had it gone in, it would have been a different game."
As referee Matthew Breeze blew for the interval, Muscat and Alessandro seemed to be engaged in a wild difference of opinion, leading at one point to Muscat pushing Alessandro with some force. The Brazilian was unmollified on the walk into the rooms despite approaches from Adrian Leijer and assistant coach Aaron Healy. To little surprise, Alessandro did not appear for second-half duty, replaced by Adrian Caceres.
"Nothing happened", said Merrick, straight-batting reporter interest in the clash. "They were cuddling each other."
"Whatever was said," said Muscat by way of explanation, "He certainly didn't understand me. But it's irrelevant - we won two-nil tonight and I thought we were outstanding."
If Victory was unforthcoming about the incident, Adelaide captain Aloisi decided he'd assist explain from an on-pitch perspective what had transpired. "Lucky I understand Portuguese", he said, setting the lure for a now expectant bank of reporters. "(Alessandro) said the lights were too bright and he couldn't see the ball", he deadpanned, comprehensively landing his catch.
Caceres was quickly into the action, taking on Alagich early on, then shortly afterwards skipping over a tackle before cutting inside to let loose a shot which flashed by the far post.
But as the second half wore on, Adelaide United came more into the contest, and with the deficit the barest margin, regularly threatened to equalise. Theoklitos gave one opportunity, adjudged to have handled outside the area as his momentum took him over the line, but that free-kick was competently dealt with. Allsopp was withdrawn into a central midfield position when Claudinho replaced Fred, but it was by bringing on Angelo Costanzo for Aloisi the balance tipped Adelaide's way.
"After about the twenty-minute mark (of the second half) Adelaide had nothing to lose, so threw huge numbers forward. We (had) to defend, you've got to mark them, you've got to chase back. (But) they leave themselves wide open to the counter-attack", said Merrick.
Costanzo had been at the heart of much of Adelaide's fight-back, and would be especially unhappy at events leading up to Victory's second. As he and Allsopp chased a ball up Victory's right he stopped seemingly claiming Allsopp's arm had struck his head. The referee's whistle never sounded, and Allsopp continued, now on a direct path to goal. Bajic was able to parry the shot but it fell to Claudinho at the edge of the penalty-area from where he shot low into the net. Costanzo and several team-mates sought to protest what they felt was an iniquity without altering the decision to award the goal.
Merrick thought the matter quite uncontroversial. "I saw Daniel Allsopp doing a brilliant job, stealing the ball from Costanzo, racing towards goal, great shot on target and the rebound Claudinho finished off", he said.
"There was a whistle", asserted Kosmina. "I heard it, (assistant coach Aurelio Vidmar) heard it, I was just talking to one of the security guards outside and he said he'd heard it. Ange thought there was a foul because he got a poke in the eye and he stopped. There was a whistle."
"We still had an opportunity to get it away after (Allsopp's shot), but it wasn't to be."
As the games' end neared both United and Melbourne both made last-ditch efforts. Dodd was quickly onto Shengqin Qu's shot, but Muscat bravely blocked from point-blank distance. At the other end, Claudinho wriggled his way into a good shooting position, but couldn't beat Bajic. Shortly afterwards, Qu brought out a spectacular save from Theoklitos after turning sharply on a Costanzo ball inside the penalty-area when a goal seemed certain.
Despite last season's disappointing conclusion, Victory's fan base seems to have increased, and the long queues still outside the gates at kick-off time was grand testimony of its popularity and place in the sporting fabric of the country's second-largest city.
Live television commitments prevented there being a delay in the game's start, and so it was not until well into the first half that all were inside, taking the stadium close to capacity.