The weight of another defeat evident on his shoulders, Melbourne Victory coach Grant Brebner has promised some “tough, hard conversations” with his playing group following his side’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle Jets and admitted that, at the moment, Victory fans were “justified” in their frustrated boos.
Pockets of Victory fans serenaded their side with derision when they went to the North End of AAMI Park to acknowledge them following their Sunday evening defeat, and broke into chants of “we’re f***ing s**t” and “you’re nothing special, we lose every week” after referee Kurt Ams blew the final whistle to signal yet another defeat.
It’s angst born from Victory winning just a single game and drawing another so far in 2020-21, compared to a league-leading five losses. Their minus eight goal difference is also the worst in the competition; their five goals scored the worst mark in the league and only Adelaide United’s defence proving leakier this season.
“That’s where we’re at,” Brebner said of the negative reaction. “The reaction the fans gave, that’s where we’re at. Now, if there’s a footballer - and as head coach of this football club - if that doesn’t make you want to go out there and give everything you’ve got to turn it around then, in all honesty, you shouldn’t be here.
“The fans are entitled to their opinion and their opinion at the moment is justified. Let’s not pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. I know exactly where we’re at and the players need to know exactly where they’re at. And they’ll be told.”
After appearing to be completely off the pace in the opening 20 minutes of the contest - the Jets midfield of Steven Ugarkovic, Angus Thurgate and Ramy Najjarine knocking the ball around the middle of the park with confident ease - Victory was nonetheless able to stabilize proceedings somewhat and get back into the game after increasing the tempo at against their Hunter-based foes.
However, the four-time A-League champions, despite the best efforts of Callum McManaman, were still unable to trouble the scoresheet, and Brebner’s side was lucky that the VAR opted against giving the Jets one of two clear penalty shouts for a handball on Leigh Broxham or after a clumsy challenge from Jacob Butterfield or from sending off Storm Roux for a high boot on Connor O’Toole.
And eventually, Thurgate's 72nd minute goal - in his 50th A-League appearance - proved the difference.
“I think there’s a lot of disappointment [in the dressing room]," a despondent Brebner said post-game. “To come in after losing another game it’s not where we want to be... but I accept that where we’re at and we’ve got a game coming up on Wednesday night and we need to turn it around quickly.
“We certainly gave them a little bit too much respect [in the opening exchanges]. We certainly didn’t get tight enough. We changed things to our favour, which worked but when it’s the flip of a coin of who is winning the game at the moment it’s not falling for us.
“We’ve spoken in previous games about not creating enough chances. I think we had some chances tonight. We need to convert. For the little amount of opportunities that Newcaslte had, they still managed there.
“So… look, we’re sitting on the flip of a coin at the moment where there is the odd goal in the game but we’ve got to continue and turn it around. We’ve got to have that belief amongst the group. And that’s not just throwing words out there. We’ve got to come in tomorrow, look at where we went wrong and try to fix it in a very short space of time.
“I’m not going to shy away from anything. We understand exactly where we’re at. We understand the magnitude of where we are positionally in the league and I understand what we went through in the last seven games. I’m not going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes in here or in the changing room over the next 48 hours.
“We’ve got a big job ahead of us, I’ve got a big job ahead of me. We’ve got to turn it around. There’s no other way around it, we’ve got to turn it around and if that means having some really, really tough, hard conversations with players and letting them know where I see them at then I’ll do it.”
Making things harder for Brebner in his quest to engineer a change in fortune in the remaining four home-games ahead of his side in the coming weeks are yet more player injuries.
Their dressing room having already resembled somewhat more of a casualty ward at times this season, Victory lost Roux to the effects of a concussion suffered in his collision with O’Toole on Sunday, as well as defenders Nick Ansell and Adama Traore to hamstring injuries.
While the former injury, being a collision, is unfair to add to growing trends, the latter two represent further, unhappy additions to Victory’s history of soft-tissue injuries in recent seasons. Brebner, who brought in a new strength and conditioning coach this season, was unsure of what the root cause of the issues were - but said that it would be something the club would be investigating.
“It has been a bit of a stop start season for us,” he said. “We’ve obviously had a pre-season that we condensed a lot of games in in a short period of time and then came back into Melbourne and continued.
“We’re not training any differently to how I’ve trained for 15-20 years. So, it’s something we’ll have a look at internally over the next couple of days.
“As far as I’m aware the conditions aren’t any different on Gosch's Paddock to how they’ve been [for 15-20 years].