A Robbie Kruse-inspired Melbourne Victory have eased the mounting pressure on Marco Kurz, prevailing 1-0 over Perth Glory at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Sidelined since preseason through injury, Kruse marked his return to the first XI with a goal in the 33rd minute. Released down the left after an interchange between Jakob Poulsen and Ola Toivonen, Adama Traore’s cross missed its target but found Andrew Nabbout at the back post, who controlled the bouncing ball on his chest before squaring for Kruse to tap in from point-blank range.
Victory were able to field their star front three in the starting line-up for the first time, with Kruse, Nabbout and Toivonen leading the attack, and Elvis Kamsoba perched in behind in the #10 role.
However, Kurz was forced to patch the backline together with duct tape and string, thanks to injuries to Thomas Deng and Tim Hoogland. Leigh Broxham, celebrating his 300th game for the club, started at centre back alongside James Donachie, while a pre-game farce ensued at right back.
Storm Roux was a very late withdrawal through illness, while his replacement on the team sheet, Brandon Lauton, injured himself in the warm-up. It was down to youngster Anthony Lesiotis to deputise outside of his natural position, with moments notice before kick-off.
For Perth Glory, it was a departure from the back three that has served Tony Popovic so well since his arrival in the West. Instead, he opted for a back four and a midfield diamond, with his son Kristian at the base. Diego Castro started as the #10, with Bruno Fornaroli and Chris Ikonomidis upfront.
The untimely passing of former Socceroos boss Pim Verbeek was acknowledged before kick-off, with a round of applause and a moment’s silence.
Marco Kurz was received altogether less warmly, with a chorus of boos greeting his name when read out over the stadium PA.
Kruse was an ever-present for Victory in possession, making himself constantly available for his teammates, finding immaculately measured through balls, dribbling past his markers and proving a nightmare to man-mark.
The Socceroo stamped his authority on the game early, with three telling actions in the opening 15 minutes. First, a lovely shimmy past two defenders, before picking out Nabbout with a raking diagonal, who was adjudged offside.
The second, when Nabbout set Victory away on promising break. Kruse twisted and turned to tee up Kamsoba, but neither player could get a shot away. The ball ultimately dropped for Toivonen, whose shot from distance was saved comfortably by Reddy.
And thirdly, a lovely Kruse reverse pass set Kamsoba free down the left of the box, but the Burundi international – lively as usual – couldn’t find a teammate with his cross.
Perth had plenty of possession in their backline and deep midfield areas, but struggled to advance the ball to the forward third. Kilkenny fired the first warning shot in the 17th minute, when he collected Franjic’s cutback and fizzed a long range effort narrowly over the crossbar.
Victory nearly had a fortuitous opener in the 24th minute, when a counter-attack initiated by Kruse and Lesiotis released Nabbout down the left. His attempted cross was shanked goalwards, leaving Liam Reddy sprawling to tip it over the crossbar, and ultimately tangled in his own net. Nabbout connected with the resulting corner, but couldn’t keep his header down.
The confidence boost of Victory’s 33rd minute opener was plain to see. Kamsoba was all of a sudden nutmegging opponents, and Toivonen flicking passes around the corner with the outside of his boot, Bergkamp-style. One such pass found Kruse, whose driven cross narrowly evaded the desperate lunge of Nabbout.
Perth came out reinvigorated after the break, laying siege to the Victory penalty area for the first 15 minutes following halftime. Victory appeared to invite the pressure, dropping deep into their own area, conceding corner upon corner, and failing to clear their lines when given the opportunity.
In the 50th minute, Broxham, whose copybook had been unblotted thus far on his milestone game, ducked out of the way of a Juande cross. Fornaroli very nearly took full advantage, half-volleying into the ground and against the crossbar from 12 yards.
The pressure very nearly culminated in an equaliser, when Alex Grant, remaining in the box after a corner, met a teasing Kilkenny cross, but his header only clipped the crossbar on its way over.
Tempers boiled over in the 77th minute, when a petulant challenge from a frustrated Castro left Migjen Basha prone on the turf. The Glory captain was yellow carded, and he and Kruse had to be separated by the referee.
Kruse’s chant – his name sung to the tune of Daddy Cool – rang out in response across the South End. While derided by so many, the Victory hardcore remember what he achieved for the club in his first spell a decade ago.
Kruse was given a standing ovation upon his 88th minute substitution by the 13,084 in attendance at AAMI Park. Could his return to fitness turn around Kurz’s stuttering tenure?
Perth gave the home side a final scare in injury time, when a missed tackle from Kenny Athiu let Gregory Wuthrich through. Lawrence Thomas raced out bravely to block the angle and secure Victory’s first home win of the campaign.
While Broxham may have flown under the radar on his big night, with 3 points in the bag and a clean sheet, you suspect he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Melbourne Victory: 0. Lawrence Thomas, 21. Adama Traore, 4. James Donachie, 6. Leigh Broxham, 24. Anthony Lesiotis, 8. Jakob Poulsen, 18. Migjen Basha, 17. Elvis Kamsoba, 10. Robbie Kruse, 11. Ola Toivonen ©, 9. Andrew Nabbout
Subs: 50. Brendan White, 3. Corey Brown, 7. Kenny Athiu, 16. Josh Hope, 19. Ben Carrigan
Perth Glory: 33. Liam Reddy, 5. Ivan Franjic, 2. Alex Grant, 4. Gregory Wuthrich, 8. James Meredith, 27. Juande, 88. Neil Kilkenny, 29. Kristian Popovic, 17. Diego Castro ©, 19. Chris Ikonomidis, 9. Bruno Fornaroli
Subs: 1. Tando Velaphi, 6. Dino Djulbic, 7. Joel Chianese, 12. Soobeom Kim, 14. Chris Harold, 20. Jake Brimmer