By Josh Parish
Apathetic. Detached. Indifferent.
If there were one club you’d assume would be used to playing without fans, it would be the nomadic Western United. But in the eerie silence of an empty AAMI Park, against their biggest rivals, and with their faint finals hopes hanging by a thread, Mark Rudan’s side seemed to be merely going through the motions.
With the likes of Josh Risdon, Victor Sanchez and Besart Berisha unavailable through injury, Western’s youthful midfield double pivot of Luke Duzel and Seb Pasquali was battered and bullied by their larger and more experienced opposition – in particular the usually underwhelming Jacob Butterfield, who tonight made this A-League lark look rather simple.
It was the Englishman who created Victory’s opener, winning the ball back outside the box with two successive challenges. Storm Roux’s subsequent cross from the right was headed across goal by Rudy Gestede, and Tomi Uskok’s tame headed clearance fell straight to Jake Brimmer just inside the box. With trademark technical precision, Brimmer struck the ball sweetly on the bounce and found the top corner with an unsaveable drive.
The onslaught continued six minutes later, with Callum McManaman turning Duzel inside and out, and curling a spectacular inswinger onto the crossbar from an acute angle.
Victory doubled their lead on 22 minutes, as Butterfield stole the ball from Pasquali again, and set Victory away on the break. Ben Folami played in Adama Traore on the overlap, whose drive cross was poked home by the long, outstretched leg of Rudy Gestede.
It took a rare Elvis Kamsoba goal, however, to reveal that something about Western was seriously awry. Folami received the ball from McManaman in transition, beating Tomoki Imai down the line and squaring the ball for Kamsoba, who was left unmarked in the middle for a simple side-footed finish. The Burundi international wheeled out his famous acrobatic celebration, but without the Vuck fans in attendance, somehow even a backflip seemed oddly muted.
Three minutes later and it was four – defensively, the most glaring of the bunch. Deep in his own corner, Traore played a delicate dink over a tentative Western press to find Butterfield, who simply slid the ball down the line for the onrushing Folami. The on-loan Ipswich winger had acres of space to drift infield and beat Scott low at the near post, with recovering defenders resembling black and green coloured training cones.
The nominal home side mustered a meagre response before halftime, as Folami handled the ball following a corner. The offence was initially ignored by debutant A-League referee Adam Bavcar, but awarded following an on-field VAR review. Alessandro Diamanti didn’t wait for the decision to carry the ball to the spot, and took his obvious frustration out on the ball, slamming it into the bottom right corner.
If Rudan was hoping for a response to his halftime spray, he didn’t get it. It took Victory just 5 minutes of the second half to make it 5-1, with Diamanti giving the ball away straight to Brimmer. Kamsoba evaded the Italian’s challenge easily, exchanging passes with McManaman inside the box and finishing low and hard across Ryan Scott.
Fittingly, it was Butterfield who wrapped up the emphatic 6-1 win with a eye-watering drive.
After 6 defeats on the trot, Western United’s attentions now turn to preparing for next season, and whether Berisha, Diamanti and indeed Rudan will decide to go around again. Despite their collapse in the second half of the campaign, there is no suggestion from the club that they’ll look to replace him.
Meanwhile, Victory have saved their best performance of the season – and their first win ever against Western United – for a game with no fans in the stands. Steve Kean has certainly bolstered his coaching CV for future employment, but the Vuck fans may be disappointed in the lack of opportunities afforded to their young talents.