Ola Toivonen’s 25th minute penalty has guided Melbourne Victory to an opening round Asian Champions League win over Thai champions Chiangrai United.
The Swedish international had no issue converting the penalty he had won, giving the Victory just its third opening round win in the Champions League – as well as the club’s third straight clean sheet in Asia.
Elvis Kamsoba was at his energetic best in a hard-fought win for the struggling Victory, with chances at either end few and far between.
Kicking off its eighth campaign, Melbourne Victory was pitted against Champions League debutants and Thai champions Chiangrai United in the opening match of Group E.
Determined to reinvigorate confidence and optimism after an uninspiring few weeks in the A-League, the Victory nearly opened the scoring four minutes in when Elvis Kamsoba laid off an unmarked Migjen Basha who fired his attempt over the crossbar in the fourth minute.
At the other end Chiangrai’s menacing striker Bill was receiving plenty of attention from the Victory fans – introducing himself to the Champions League with a late bump on Lawrence Thomas in attempt to win the ball off the Victory goalkeeper.
Carlos Salvachua named a youthful midfield, giving starts to Anthony Lesiotis and Brandon Lauton alongside Migjen Basha in the centre of the park.
Victory’s midfield concerns were present early as sloppy turnovers allowed Chiangrai to grow in confidence, with their first attempt coming as a result of Tiatrakul Sivakorn pouncing on an error to set up Buran Chaiyawat – whose shot went wide.
Though Victory’s nerves were soon put to rest as Ola Toivonen was awarded a penalty after being dragged down by Tanasak Srisai in the 24th minute – two minutes Chiangrai goalkeeper Apirak Worawong miraculously kept out the Swede’s curled attempt headed for the top corner.
Though the Chiangrai goalkeeper was not able to keep out the Victory captain for a second time, as Toivonen buried his penalty to give the Victory the lead.
Kamsoba buoyed the crowd with his rapid movements down the right wing – using his pace to set up a waiting Andrew Nabbout, who should have scored with his first-time attempt inside the box in the 31st minute.
Meanwhile, Sivakorn fired Chiangrai’s first attempt on target on the cusp of half-time, with Thomas catching his left-footed strike from a set-piece won by Bill 30 yards out on the right wing.
Nabbout nearly doubled Victory’s lead in the 58th minute when his header off Basha’s corner struck the crossbar, while right-back Storm Roux added to Victory’s injury concerns when he was stretchered off a minute later and replaced by Ben Carrigan.
Marco Rojas replaced a frustrated Nabbout in the 72nd minute as the Kiwi international edges closer to his first start since returning to the club.
It didn’t take Rojas long to get involved, the 28-year-old surged forward to square a ball inside the box to Kamsoba in the 81st minute, with the Burundi international taking a touch around the goalkeeper but, as has been the case this season, was unable to hit the target as another golden opportunity to score that maiden Victory goal went begging.
Chiangrai’s night was exacerbated by a red card to substitute Thirayu Banhan, who could be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines after he was sent off for a vicious challenge on Jay Barnett in the 89th minute.
Using the extra man to its advantage, the Victory nearly added a second in deep in stoppage time when Marco Rojas’ flick found an unmarked Ola Toivonen, whose stretched attempt went straight into the arms of Apirak.
A trip to Korea awaits the Victory, who faces FC Seoul while Chiangrai hosts Chinese Super League Runners-up Beijing Guoan in its first-ever Champions League home game.
Melbourne Victory 1 (Toivonen 25′ (P))
Chiangrai United 0
Featured Image: Fox Sports
Lawrence Thomas (GK), Storm Roux (Ben Carrigan 58’), James Donachie, Giancarlo Gallifuoco, Adama Traore, Migjen Basha, Anthony Lesiotis (Jay Barnett 59’), Brandon Lauton, Elvis Kamsoba, Andrew Nabbout (Marco Rojas 72’), Ola Toivonen
Kenny Athiu, Birkan Kirdar, Josh Hope, Matthew Sutton
Apirak Worawong (GK), Tanasak Srisai, Brinner Souza, Phitiwat Sookjitthammakul, Lee Yong Rae (Piyaphon Phanitchakun 67’), Bill, Sivakorn Tiatrakul, Chotipat Poomakaew (Thirayu Banhan 75’), Apirak Worawong, Chaiyawat Buran (Mailson 53’), Suriya Singmui, Sarawut Inpaen
Saranon Anuin, Akarawin Sawasdee, Gionata Verzura, Shinnaphat Leeaoh