Soccer: Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat refuses to panic as road trip, derby loom

Wanderers goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne dives past a shot at goal by Victory’s Kosta Barbarouses Photo: Getty Images It’s a measure of the sustained success Melbourne Victory have enjoyed under Kevin Muscat that some are suggesting their second A-League defeat in a row represents a form slump for the champions.

Victory have not lost two games in a row for a long time, so it is not something the soccer world is used to seeing. But to argue that the titleholders might be feeling the pinch is drawing a long bow.

There were mitigating circumstances for the defeat in Wellington in round nine – an awful pitch and a ridiculous shirt colour clash.

And while Western Sydney Wanderers deservedly took the points in a pulsating encounter in Parramatta on Saturday night it’s not as if Muscat’s men were played off the park or blown away, even if more chinks are becoming apparent in the Victory armour than may have existed before.

Until Danny Vukovic’s error a quarter of an hour from time, when the goalkeeper let Romeo Castelen’s shot squirm off his body and in for the decisive second goal, the visitors were only a goal down and still in with a perfectly good chance of grabbing a point.

It was a terrific game, full of end-to-end action and exciting contests all over the park, none more so than on the Wanderers’ right flank (Victory’s left) where the excellent Castelen gave Victory left back Daniel Georgievski a torrid evening, tormenting the defender all night and scoring that second decisive goal.

That said, the coming week represents a big test of Victory’s character and resolve, not to mention constitution and fitness, given they have to travel to Western Australia for a catch-up fixture against Perth Glory on Wednesday night before making the trek back to take on local rivals Melbourne City in the traditional pre-Christmas derby at AAMI Park on Saturday night.

Victory opted to fly back from Sydney and, in Muscat’s words, “spend two nights in our own beds, train and assess the situation with injuries and tiredness” before flying to WA on Tuesday afternoon for a game that had to be postponed when the two met in the FFA Cup final last month, a trophy Victory won.

One thing is clear from a tough, physical match in which Wanderers’ midfield enforcers stamped their authority on proceedings was that Victory certainly do miss their injured captain Carl Valeri. A lot.

Valeri is not only an excellent footballer – he was, after all, good enough to spend more than a decade playing in the tough league that is Italy’s Serie B and start for Australia in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But he is a huge presence on the field for the example he sets. Tough, organised, tactically smart, disciplined and a leader, Valeri can shore up the defence, screen the other midfielders and can, when the occasion demands it, get involved in the hard and rough stuff too.

Victory don’t really have anyone else like him, and the fact he will be missing indefinitely because of a viral infection that has affected his balance is a big headache for Muscat.

Fahid Ben Khallfallah, the mercurial French-Tunisian winger, was a standout last season when he made an enormous impression on the A-League in his debut campaign. He has not quite looked the same player this season and Victory would love to get more out of him over the next few matches. In fact, Castelen did for the Wanderers what Khallfallah did for Victory so often last year.

Muscat is not one to panic, and although the pain of defeat always cuts him deeply he says that it is the performances rather than the results which, so far, are what he will focus on.

“It was a very high tempo, high pressing game and both teams made it a good game by having a go,” Muscat said on Sunday as he reflected on the outcome.

“None of us like losing – I don’t even like losing at cards – so it’s disappointing and not something we take lightly. Our performance wasn’t terrible, we were in the game and we really took it to them.

“But it just goes to show that it’s not as easy as everyone tries to say it will be for us.

“Our mindset is very much on wanting to improve every game, so we will analyse the performance, concentrate on improving that and the results will flow on from that.

“We never get caught up in one or two individual results but having said that we have lost two matches on the bounce and a lot of our players are not used to that, they haven’t had it before. They will have to bounce back from it not just for Perth but for the derby that comes after.”

Young Hume City attacker Jai Ingham has been training with the club.

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