Melbourne Victory will end the year atop the A-League Men table after securing a 2-0 ‘Original Rivalry’ win over Adelaide United and completing a significant 2023 turnaround.
After being frustrated for much of the Saturday evening fixture by Adelaide keeper Joe Gauci, a 73rd-minute goal from Zinedine Machach and a 90th-minute clincher from Bruno Fornaroli secured Victory the win at AAMI Park, vaulting them above Wellington in the table.
The ALM’s lone unbeaten side, Victory’s place at its summit heading into 2024 marks a stark contrast to how they entered 2023, when they were still reeling from the violent pitch invasion at the Melbourne derby and had yet-to-be-determined sanctions hanging over them.
They would go on to finish the 2022-23 campaign second-bottom, only to commence a major turnaround over the off-season.
“Adversity makes you stronger,” said coach Tony Popovic.
“That’s what we went through as a football club on and off the field.
“But we’ve come out the other side with renewed energy that started straight after the season finished, with a real vision and goal on what we want to achieve.
“We want to change the narrative, get people speaking about Victory positively; about our great fans, our members, our club – because it is a special club.
“And we’re on a mission to achieve that.”
Victory had been pushing for a breakthrough and deserved Machach’s opener, a goal set up by a run from Nishan Velupillay in which he rounded both Javi Lopez and Ryan Tunnicliffe before cutting it back for the Frenchman’s first-time finish.
A headed effort from Damien Da Silva almost made it 2-0 immediately after but Fornaroli, playing in his final game before he departs to represent Australia at the Asian Cup, ultimately put a bow on proceedings.
The Uruguayan-born Socceroo departs with 13 goals in just 10 ALM games, with Guaci also heading off for Asian Cup duty.
After coming to Melbourne and taking a point off Victory in round three, Adelaide had no such luck this time around, buffeted by their opponent’s pressure and unable to turn promising field position into clear chances.
The majority of their shots were of the long-range, speculative variety – efforts that did little to trouble Victory keeper Paul Izzo.
“They’re a very good side, Victory,” said Adelaide coach Carl Veart.
“They put you under pressure which forces you into mistakes that you wouldn’t normally make.
“Tonight, they put pressure on us, and then that perceived pressure.”