By Josh Parish
Sometimes a win means more than three points.
Sometimes it’s a psychological necessity.
Make no mistake: if lessons are not learned at a front office and boardroom level, Melbourne Victory are still staring down the barrel of a long spell of mediocrity.
Complacency is an unforgiving vice in the fast-moving world of football. Three years on from their unlikely Grand Final win in Newcastle and two years into a Kevin Muscat-shaped power vacuum, Victory as an institution have been exposed for their lack of footballing nous.
This administration can still negotiate a corporate sponsorship with the best of them, but the chain of responsibility in recruitment is murky at best, and an overarching football philosophy is nowhere to be seen.
However, with two purposeful flicks of his forehead, Rudy Gestede handed his beleaguered head coach a lifeline.
The Frenchman ran straight to the bench to embrace Grant Brebner after the opening goal, as the pair were quickly mobbed by the entire team. The images sent a clearer message than any press conference quote or social media post ever could: the players are behind their manager.
Brebner’s game plan may not be the most sophisticated, but neither is Gestede. The 6’4’’ striker controls the ball like it’s an undetonated ordinance. He lumbers around with all the guile and grace of a Tyrannosaurus Rex on roller skates.
But give him a decent cross to attack in the penalty area, and watch the opposition panic.
In many facets the superior team, Wellington simply had no answer for him at set pieces. In hindsight, big central defender Luke Devere was a big miss.
Beset by a frankly ridiculous run of injuries, Victory are still a limited and deeply flawed outfit. The A-League will doubtless serve up less favourable match-ups than Wellington’s somewhat diminutive backline.
The culpability of the club’s strength and conditioning department remains the unanswerable question. Soft tissue injuries have seemed a systemic issue since the last Muscat season, and the mystery of Keisuke Honda’s hamstring.
What was Anthony Crea doing that the current staff aren’t? Is training on a public park – albeit a particularly well-maintained one – good enough for a professional club? Have Victory mismanaged the lockdowns and quarantining to and from Qatar? Or has Brebner simply walked under a ladder, shattered a mirror, and wronged some vengeful footballing god in a past life?
Wednesday night’s win, though, was proof of concept. Proof that Gestede is more than an expensive seat-warmer. Proof that Callum McManaman can beat his marker and swing in a dangerous cross. Proof that Leigh Broxham, wearing the captain’s armband, can still keep up with the play and make a challenge when he needs to.
And proof that the players on the pitch – whoever can be coaxed out of the physio’s room that week – actually do want to play football for Grant Brebner.
Victory, as Brebner was keen to point out post-match, finished with six youth prospects on the park. While his hand was largely forced – who is left fit to play but the kids? – the confidence those youngsters displayed was significant.
All the best prospects go to Melbourne City these days, so Victory no longer have their pick of the local litter. But Birkan Kirdar and Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio are two of the brightest starlets to emerge from the “Vuck” academy in years.
The dismal home crowd, constantly harassed by overzealous AAMI Park security guards to sit down and shut up, were ready to revolt. And these are the rusted on, the die-hards.
“Sack the board” chants rang out clearly from the North End as the game ticked into stoppage time, followed by “Di Pietro, get out of our club”.
Anthony Di Pietro and co cannot take their support for granted indefinitely. Eventually, frustrated fans will vote not with their voices, but with their feet. But sacking Brebner now is unthinkable. The PR hit from another failed appointment, let alone of a club legend, could sink their reputation – perhaps even commercially.
Three points is the balm that temporarily quells dissent among a fanbase unaccustomed to long barren spells. A win is sometimes more than a win.
With that, Brebner has saved more than just his own skin. For now, at least.