Reviving the A-League: Melbourne Victory F.C.

TheMaestro

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Chapter 1: The Beginning

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It has been a long time since I touched Football Manager 2021, computer issues and general laziness to fix those issues meant that the game sat unused on my desktop for a considerable amount of time. But here I am, back where I didn't think I would be, at least not until FM22, with another Football Manager story. I've decided to do something a little different, and go to a league which I typically would ignore.

That league is the A-League, which is Australia's football league. Being Australian, it felt like I should take on a job at A-League level, and I felt there was no better place to do so than at Melbourne Victory. Melbourne Victory have so often been one of Australia's highest regarded clubs, but suffered a poor season last year, and have been struggling at the bottom again this season. Seeing as the entire point of this save is to improve the A-League, what better place to start at than a club who has fallen from grace.

The A-League has had its moments, with players such as Dwight Yorke, Alessandro Del Piero and Tim Cahill gracing its pitch. But they are a very select few, and in 2021, there a few decent players knocking around the place, such as Benat, Markel Susaeta and Alessandro Diamanti, but no one who used to be truly world class. So the aim of this save is to get the A-League to a level where they can attract better players on a more regular basis, and compete better in the Asian Champions League. The Western Sydney Wanderers were the only Australian club to have ever won it, and that was back in 2014.

I will also be keeping tabs on the Australian National team job for vacancies because improving Australia as a footballing nation is one of the main aims. We've changed managers a few times in recent years, so hopefully I will be able to take the reins at some point a long the line.

Thank you for reading this introductory post, hope you enjoy!
 
Chapter 2: Settling into the Club

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Here I am, ready to get settled into the club and find my feet. My coaching badges are at what was recommended for a manager of this level.

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A bit of history about the club. The A-League is still a very young league, having only been in existence for just over 15 years. They've won 2 A-League titles in their history and we'll be looking to add to that trophy cabinet as much as possible.

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And here's our team report. Of the players, there might be a few names you'll recognise. Ryan Shotton and Rudy Gestede from their Middlesbrough days, Robbie Kruse from his time in Germany. But, overall, it is not fantastic and could use some definite improvement, but with a minimal budget, this looks unlikely.

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Within three seasons, the board wants me to win the A-League, which I do not think is an insurmountable task. The club can definitely improve to a level where they can win the A-League within that time period - at least I hope we can.

 
Chapter 3: Kicking Off the Season

Given that in the A-League anybody can truly beat anybody, I had no idea what to expect from our first game, up against Brisbane Roar.

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So to get a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory was a welcome result. We were the better team, and although both sides had chances that they should've scored, we deserved the win. Given the A-League's fixture system, we face Brisbane again on Matchday 3!

Our next game was against Western United, a team who we faced in pre-season and beat, so I was hoping for another strong result.

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And we battled hard to get it, winning the game 3-2! Once again, I would say that we were the better team, and it was great to see the players fight from 1-0 and 2-1 down to grab an 88th minute winner through journeyman left back Adama Traore!

All of that meant we sat 2nd in the table in a short month fixture-wise.
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As for the transfer window, we had 0 outgoings and 0 incomings, making it the most uneventful window I've ever had in FM.

 
Chapter 4: The Perfect Start

It was time to face Brisbane again, and I decided to play the same line-up that won 1-0 just 2 games ago...

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And they got the exact same result, winning 1-0 again! A second goal in as many games for left back Adama Traore proved to be an early winner in this one, as we comfortably were able to see out the match from there and notch another victory.

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We then absolutely dispatched Western Sydney Wanderers 5-0 in the next game! Ben Folami is proving to be a more than capable striker, and it was good to see supposed star player Callum McManaman getting his first goals in a Victory shirt.

Next up was our first truly massive fixture, however...
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It was the Big Blue Derby, a fierce rivalry against Sydney FC, who were the only unbeaten team alongside us in the division after 4 games. This is not a fixture the Victory have fared well in at all in recent years, but I was aiming to change that.

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And we did exactly that, winning after going in 1-0 down at the break. Our two wingers nabbed the goals in a match winning five minute spell and our miraculous perfect start continues with our best win so far, given the strength of the team we were up against.

We faced Western United again as well, and I was hoping for a 6th straight win

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And the players delivered, holding on to win the match, with our wingers once again scoring as Rojas replaced McManaman who suffered a minor injury. Another great result and good to see that the majority of people in the ground were Victory fans, even though we were away.

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It wasn't without nerves though, as former Melbourne Victory legend Besart Berisha had a goal disallowed for offside in stoppage time!

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Next up was a routine win against Perth with Elvis Kamsoba having netted in 4 consecutive matches now...

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And whilst his streak failed to continue, we managed to triumph against the Sky Blues for the second time in as many weeks! This has been a miracle start to the season and I cannot believe it! We are in dreamland!

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Our final game of the month was against New Zealand side Wellington Phoenix, who took a 1-0 lead, but thankfully Ben Folami was on hand to see the sides level at the break. And Folami struck again for back-to-back braces, meaning that we have now won all 9 of our opening games with a side who finished 3rd last in the previous season. This win broke the consecutive win record held by Victory, which was previously 8!

All of which left the league table looking pretty incredible, with us leading the way by 8 points already!
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However, we have 2nd placed Adelaide next, and that is bound to be our biggest test so far...

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And to top it all off, Ben Folami got the Young Player of the Month award, with 9 goal contributions in 7 games. His teammate, Jay Barnett came second and it is great to see the young players blossoming in this side! Delighted!
 
Chapter 5: A Mixed Bag

Before that crucial fixture against Adelaide, we had some mixed news...
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Both Rudy Gestede and Jacob Butterfield handed in transfer requests as a result of their work permits being unlikely to be renewed. They both added some valuable depth to the squad and I was not especially happy about it.

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It could've been worse though, they've only made a combined 5 appearances, all of which have been of the bench, and neither have really had significant minutes.

And now we went into that crucial Adelaide game, knowing that a win would be an amazing result...

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But it just wasn't too be as we lost our first game under my tenure to our closest rivals. From the moment our GK Matt Acton saved a penalty after 3 minutes, they outclassed us and took home a deserved win which shakes up the table considerably.

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And we followed that up with what was possibly an even poorer result in the Melbourne derby. Given that they were last coming into this game, I was expecting a win, but at least the attendance was pumping in this one, which is great for the league and revenue.

So I thought to myself, what is the best way to turn around a couple of bad results?

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Well, a 6-1 thrashing of Macarthur FC was not a bad way to start at all! Elvis Kamsoba bagged a hat-trick in this one and it was a 5 star display fully deserving of the score line. Back to winning ways in the best possible style!

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But we were soon brought crashing back down to earth, with a 2-0 loss to Central Coast, a side steadily climbing up the table. We didn't begin to play well and they deserved the victory. The table was getting tighter and tighter!

Our 3rd game against Sydney already was proof of the A-League's erratic fixturing system

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But we won for the 3rd time out of 3! Terrific stuff, and I wouldn't have dreamed of getting one over on Sydney three times at the beginning of the season. Terrific stuff and it was the perfect way to end a mixed month.

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The gap at the top has reduced to 5, with Adelaide in pretty good form, despite a blip in their last two games.

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And Ben Folami once again picked up the Young Player of the Month Award, and this time it was Birkan Kirdar in second!
 
Chapter 6: Injuries...

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We began the month with the unfortunate news that starting RB Storm Roux would miss the next two months, which was not ideal.

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We then made two signings on pre-contracts for next season, with Stefan Nigro returning to the club and Daniel Stynes coming in from Perth.

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And then our other full-back, star player Adama Traore was injured for at least 7 weeks, meaning that our lack of depth at LB might cost us in the coming month.

All of which did not bode well for our next game, which was against Western Sydney Wanderers, who we beat 5-0 last time.
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But this time it was an uninspiring 2-0 defeat, with our players never truly looking like scoring. The absence of our two starting full backs was noticed, with their two wingers nabbing the goals.

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We then lost three players who will join new clubs next season. Aaron Anderson chose Central Coast over a contract renewal, and Gestede and Butterfield requested to leave, which they will do next season. Anderson had some decent potential so that is not great, but we didn't lose anyone major.

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And then we drew 2-2 with bottom placed Newcastle, which made our run of form all the more concerning, at least we got an 85th minute equaliser, however.

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Thankfully we got back to winning ways against Perth, with a much needed victory to boost our morale back up.

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Despite our extremely patchy and inconsistent form, we actually extended our lead at the top of the table by an extra point, and we now lead by 6 points with 9 games remaining.

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And this time it was Jay Barnett's turn to win the Young Player of the Month award.

 
Chapter 7: Can We Win the League?

The month began with what was perhaps an even more vital fixture than our last one against Adelaide, knowing that a loss would cut the lead down to just 3...

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And an early goal for Ben Halloran saw us lose again against the superior side in this fixture. Adelaide once again outplayed us and when I needed the players to turn up most, they unfortunately flattered to deceive.

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So when we lost to Wellington Phoenix in our next fixture, I was fuming! For the first time in my tenure here I was really disappointed in the players losing to a side in horrendous form, and our title campaign was all the more on the line now.

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We broke the drought with a vital win here against Macarthur. Ryan Shotton has been awful for me and his sending off after just 10 minutes had me as nervous as ever. But instead of falling apart, we actually held our own, and Robbie Kruse, who has been just as bad, got us a winner late on!

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And then we came back down to earth with a 0-0 draw against bottom placed Newcastle Jets. Frustrating.

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In a slightly less packed month, we dwindled a little and the gap at the top is reduced to a single point, with Adelaide losing on their last matchday. This is extremely tense and with 5 games to go, who knows what will happen.
 
Chapter 8: Final Day Drama

We needed a perfect start in the month against local rivals Melbourne City.

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But we didn't get it. We went 2-0 up, but this time once we had a man sent off, we paid the price. They equalised in the 93rd minute and we got just a point, meaning Adelaide had the chance to go top...
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But bottom side Newcastle held them to a 2-2 draw!

And before we played our next game...
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They got thrashed 3-0 by play-off hunting Wellington! It was all swinging our way going into the last 4 games...

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And we gave our best performance for some time now in a 3-0 win against Newcastle, who have done us one massive favour already.

A win against Western United would put us on the brink of the title...
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But instead we threw away a 3-1 lead. TERRIBLE!!! Of all the games to do this in, this was not the one. Adelaide are right on our backs again and this was our worst game yet. So disappointed but well done to Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio who came in for Folami and did a great job, scoring twice.

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In between games, we had the great news that Ben Folami won the Australian National Youth League Player of the Year award!

I would be happy again if we could get the win against Central Coast, but if we didn't, Adelaide could go top...
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But Jake Brimmer missed a penalty on the stroke of half-time with the scores at 0-0...
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And they scored in the second half to defeat us 1-0. I was so upset with the team - were we really going to bottle this title so badly?

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Before our crucial final game, we secured the services of Mariners winger Daniel De Silva for next season, and he looks like a coup!

But here we were, faced up against Melbourne City once again, and relying on bottom placed Newcastle getting something from the Adelaide match.

But we just weren't scoring. We were down 1-0 at half-time...
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We'd equalised from the penalty spot and in the 81st minute, City had a man sent off. With the score still 0-0 in the Adelaide game, I sent a ton of men forward in desperate search of a winner.

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And then Newcastle took a 1-0 lead in the 89th minute against Adelaide...

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But it was not to be, we bottled the title in spectacular fashion. I have no words.

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We move into the play-offs at least, where we qualify for the semi-finals.

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I don't want to look at the league table right now, but I'll put it up anyway...

 
Chapter 9: The Play-Offs and Season Review

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We got the news that we would face Sydney in a Big Blue Derby semi-final! We'd beaten them every time we've faced them this season, and all we had to do to get into the final was continue that winning streak.

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So it was far from ideal that we had 3 of our back 4 suspended, Jake Brimmer injured and Elvis Kamsoba on international duty.

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And we lost 1-0, meaning we crash out at the semi-final stage. Callum McManaman's sending off early in the second half didn't help, with them scoring the winner just 5 minutes later. For a season in which we looked like we could achieve so much, we end up with nothing.

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And Adelaide went on to dispatch the Sky Blues to win both the league and the play-offs so fair play to them!

To be honest, I wasn't as disappointed as I though I would be after elimination. With our defence depleted, I wasn't really expecting the win.

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Jake Brimmer won Player of the Season and deservedly so, he was phenomenal in the middle of the park this year!

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And Ben Folami took the Young Player of the World, with a great season up front. He's only on loan but that loan is getting extended which is great news!

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I think we were a bit hard done by in the team of the year, but Adelaide were great in fairness. I would've picked Ben Folami up top, though.

My personal Player of the Season is Jake Brimmer. I have to agree with the award, he was consistently brilliant in the centre of the park and without him we look lost. It's just a shame he missed a penalty in the 1-0 loss to Central Coast near the end of the season which theoretically would've won us the league.

And, again, in line with the award, Ben Folami is my person Young Player of the Season. He got a number of goals and assists, and at 21 years old, has all the attributes that can make him a terrific striker.

As for someone who has to improve, this honour goes to Callum McManaman. He had his moments, but the experienced winger was supposedly our star player, but in the end was poor. I'll probably look to move him on in all honesty.

And our worst player of the season was a tie between Robbie Kruse and Ryan Shotton. Again, they were supposed to be two of our best players, but instead they both flopped. Kruse was horrible and Shotton was pretty bad too, meaning they'll both probably leave next season.

But that's it for the first season, despite finishing 2nd and making a semi-final, I can't help but feel disappointed with the season!
 
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Chapter 10: Season 2

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Our second season began with the signing of Jacob Italiano, a young winger with terrific potential. He is a bright Australian prospect and an exciting signing, given some underperforming wingers last season.

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Robbie Kruse was released shortly after Italiano's arrival, as we have to get rid of a number of players this summer and deciding who to keep is one of the main difficulties of the window. Letting go of Kruse was a pretty easy decision to make, however.

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Our FFA Cup journey wasn't particularly amazing, despite a 4-0 win over Western United. We exited in the quarter-finals to Adelaide.

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Our youth intake looks quite promising, with Adrian White leading the way as an extremely promising youngster.

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Our next signing was versatile midfielder and winger Charles Vernam, who comes in as a decent option to have around the team.

However, in the aftermath of this signing, when I went to register him, I was fronted with the news that I had to release 6 first team players due to registration issues. I definitely didn't plan on releasing any of these players, but nonetheless I had a decision to make. I have to be honest, I spent considerable time deciding who to let go of, and am still not sure if I made the right decisions.
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First out was Elvis Kamsoba. He was our starting winger last season, but with Vernam and Italiano both coming in and capable of playing as wingers, it was always likely that the wingers would be most likely to get released.

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Next was Marco Rojas. He's a good player but didn't get too much play time last year and Vernam will play his role this year.

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Callum McManaman was a predictable one because I wanted him out anyway.

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A big decision came in the form of releasing Storm Roux. A lot of faith is being placed in new RB Stefan Nigro to fill his boots.

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As versatile as Leigh Broxham is, he wasn't involved in the first team picture so I let him go too, as well as the fact he is getting on a bit.

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Brandon Lauton was a youngster who didn't have too much potential and was average when given match time last season so he's the last of the 6 to leave.

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Because our squad was paper thin, a versatile option was needed. Harrison Burrows can play anywhere down the left or through the centre so he fills that box.

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This meant another player had to be released, and it was to be Daniel Stynes, who leaves without having played a game.

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In exciting news, the board plan an upgrade to our youth facilities!

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And we loaned out youngster Filip Zajkov so he can hopefully grow further.
 
Chapter 11: Starting a New Season

We started the season off with the news that 7 of our players would be on international duty for our first 6 games, which meant our Starting XI was composed of a number of youth players. Whilst there were some first teamers, it didn't look good to start off the season.

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And that was reflected as we found ourselves 4-0 down against Wellington inside 31 minutes. It thankfully didn't get any worse than that, and we actually pulled a goal back, but this might be a difficult start to the season.

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And we lost again to Brisbane here, albeit only by a solitary goal in this match.

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So it didn't help when our injury list kept growing, and Adama Traore was out injured for 4 months...

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And despite only losing 1-0 to Wellington this time, it was still a loss. Not ideal!

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The losses keep on coming, this time losing 2-0 to local rivals Melbourne City.

Staring down the barrel of the exact opposite of our start to last season (where we got 9 consecutive wins), I was desperate for at least a point...
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But it wasn't to be. This was the closest we'd come to taking something, however.

The final game before the players returned from international football was against Brisbane Roar.
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No goals in 5 games and 6 straight losses was not an ideal start to the season.

But all of our players were back, and would be for the rest of the season. This was our first game with our best XI.
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And the difference was immediately felt, with Stefan Nigro and Jacob Italiano both notching debut goals.

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And we won again, with Ben Folami nabbing himself a brace! What a difference!

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3 straight wins and 3 clean sheets to end the month, giving us some hope to recover this season.

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And we aren't last after 9 games! We need to kick on and keep up our improved form next month.
 
Chapter 12: How Will This Season Go?

After finishing second, we found ourselves in a play-off to reach the Asian Champions League group stages...
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And in a cracking game, we win 5-3, largely thanks to a Jacob Italiano hat-trick! We did ever so well to turn it around and whilst there were some nerves amongst the players, we saw it out and progress in to the group stages as a result!

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Back in the league and we notched up a 4th straight win, against last years champions Adelaide United.

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But we then suffered a 3-1 defeat to Sydney FC, who look strong this year. We got back into it at 2-1, but we couldn't get any further and in the end they scored a counter attack goal to finish us off.

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And we stumbled through to a 1-1 draw against Perth. It looked like we'd be heading for another loss but thankfully Lleyton Brooks scored his first goal for the club in the 91st minute of this tie.

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We returned to winning ways against Western United - with Jake Brimmer once again being the star man.

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We unfortunately lost our first group stage game to the supposed weakest team in our group. The team who finishes 1st are the only ones who make it through so it already doesn't look good for us to progress.

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And we finished the month with an extremely disappointing performance and result in the Melbourne derby, losing 2-0 to City on the night.

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After a month of inconsistencies, we sit 10th in the league, but only 4 points of the play-offs.
 
Chapter 13: Focus Turns to Asian Champions League

This month was a pretty important one if we wanted to have any chance of progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages...
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So losing 1-0 to Guangzhou was far from ideal. With Pohang already 6 points ahead of us, our journey was pretty much over before it had begun.

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Back in the league and we faced Western Sydney Wanderers away from home. Dylan Ryan was sent off in the first half, and when they went 1-0 up in the second, it looked like we would be heading for defeat. But the players showed full spirit, turning it around late on and winning the game!

However, if we beat Pohang, it would at least give us something to fight for in the rest of the group.

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But it was a third straight loss, meaning we are confirmed to be out after just 3 games.

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And it didn't get any better in the league, losing 2-1 to Macarthur, despite Charles Vernam finally scoring.

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We finished the month with an uninspiring 0-0 draw to Central Coast at home, in which next to nothing of interest happened.

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We dropped off a position this month and we really need to improve if we want to make play-offs. A definite fall from grace this season so far.
 
Chapter 14: An Upturn in Form

Our bad run of form came at precisely the wrong time, because we next faced 1st placed Sydney FC...

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But we miraculously beat them 3-0!! Our best result by a mile this season and we performed out of our skin. It was a complete performance and deserved win, and if you didn't know the league standings, you'd think our positions would be reversed!

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We came so close to a win here against Guangzhou, but I can't fault the players regardless. We scored what looked like a late winner after turning around a 1-0 lead, but there was more drama to come as they got a 94th minute leveller. At least we finally got a point!

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We then proceeded to get another league win, getting the better of Newcastle with a second half winner.

We faced Newcastle again in the league straight after beating them...
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And whilst we kept another clean sheet, it was a 0-0 draw this time.

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We get a first Asian Champions League win!! It doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it is a nice result to have under our belts. A great performance and result and our form has definitely changed for the better this month.

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Our second match against Sydney this month ended 0-0. I'm still quite happy with this result, they are still 1st, even if we did just beat them 3-0 a couple weeks ago.

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And we ended the month on a high, thrashing Western United 4-1, thanks to two braces for Jake Brimmer and Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio!

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All of which means we are back in the play-off race!! We're 5th with 4 games to play and we are looking good after having been looking down and out for large portions of the season.

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And our improved form meant we were back amongst the awards, with Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio netting 5 in 5 to spearhead us from the front!
 
Chapter 15: Will We Make Play-Offs?

We began with our final Asian Champions League game, against first placed Pohang.
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And we go out on a high, overturning a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1, meaning that despite a disastrous start, we actually finished 2nd in the group.

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Even if we did not qualify, we continuously improved across the course of the tournament and it gives as hope for the future. This competition is massive if we want to improve Australia as a footballing nation, but it looks unlikely that we'll qualify for next season.

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And we recorded a massive victory against play-off hunters Melbourne City to increase our chances of finishing in the Top 6. Huge!!

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And Dylan Ryan won the Australian National Youth League Player of the Year award, which is terrific news!

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We then stumbled to a goalless draw against Western Sydney...

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We followed that up with a 1-0 loss against Adelaide, who are consistently proving to be our nemesis.

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But we then managed to get the win over Perth, winning 4-2, largely thanks to a hat-trick from Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio.

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We just about made the play-offs, with tha final game against Perth proving ever so crucial! If we'd dropped points, we would've finished 7th and missed the play-offs.​
 
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Chapter 16: The Play-Offs and Season Review

Given that we missed the top two this season, we had an extra play-off game to play.
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And in an absolute thriller, we come out on top 5-4 against Wellington Phoenix! It was truly an unpredictable match, packed with highlights, the score could've had even more goals to its name. Thankfully, we come out on top and reach the semi-final stage for the second year running.

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In what felt like total deja vu from last season, it was an exact rematch of our semi final last year against Sydney FC. They kicked us out, and we were primed for revenge...

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And we delivered on all cylinders!! I would never have dreamed of coming away with a 4-0 win, and we had this margin within 40 minutes! An incredible performance and we make the final now. What a result!

And after the highs of that result, we had momentum going into the final...
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Where we would face Brisbane Roar? Could we overturn a horror start to win the finals series?

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The answer was a delightful - and emphatic - yes! We WIN the final 3-0!! Unbelievable turnaround this season and I could not be happier. I am so proud of the team and this is a terrific achievement.

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We lifted the trophy in ecstasy after a comprehensive victory!

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As it says above, we really did turn around our fortunes this year. I was close to being sacked, but my job is quite safe now as you would imagine!

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It was a terrific year and my managerial ability was noted and appreciated by several other fans and managers which was delightful to hear.

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The board also offered their congratulations as we win the finals series for Melbourne Victory for the first time since 2017/18.

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Our best eleven had a few additions, with Jacob Italiano being the most notable.

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Our player of the season was Jake Brimmer by a mile, whilst Jacob Italiano was signing of the season.

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For the second year in a row, the A-League Player of the Season is Jake Brimmer!! This guy is simply incredible and I am surprised that he is not registering interest from abroad. I am disappointed he also is not capped for Australia. I would definitely change that if I had the job.

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And Young Player of the Year went to Jacob Italiano - and deservedly so! At just 20, he was impressive, especially as the season went on, and was our grand final hero with a brace.

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We had a ton of players in the best XI which I found surprising given we finished 5th. We did have some excellent individuals this season, though.

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And we finished off with some more good news - an upgrade to our training facilities.
 
Chapter 17: Starting Season Three

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We started off season three with the sale of youngster Gianluca Iannucci, who didn't make the most of his loan last year and as a result lacked the potential to be involved in the first team.

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Our FFA Cup journey was even shorter than it was last year, as we crashed out in the first round on penalties.

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We signed promising young left-back Josh Doig who looks like he could be a pretty decent player for us.

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It was a straight in and out, with left back Adama Traore being released, who has never been the same since his lengthy injury in the first season.

In our first A-League game we faced off against Wellington Phoenix yet again...

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And it ended as a bore draw, with nothing to note in an underwhelming start to the season.

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But it was all action in a thriller against Western United, with us winning 4-3! We were 3-1 up before they clawed it back, only for Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio to notch a late winner to complete a hat-trick!

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We were back up against Wellington and another late winner saw us win again! This time the honour went to Jacob Italiano, who grabbed a brace in a deserved win.

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Next was a convincing 2-0 win against local rivals Melbourne City, who we have had some struggles against in recent seasons.

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And we finished the month with a terrific 3-0 away win, with another hat-trick, this time from Daniel De Silva!

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All of which leaves us top of the league after 5 games!!​
 
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