By Kieran Yap (14/1/22)
Above: Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins (standing) Photo: Melbourne Victory
Melbourne Victory manager Jeff Hopkins is trusting the young players to step up in the absence of some big names.
Kyra Cooney-Cross and Courtney Nevin are on Matildas duty, and Lynn Williams has returned to the United States. Melina Ayres is still a few weeks away from returning to training as the club remains cautious about a hamstring injury.
Preparation for this game has been complicated by COVID cases in the squad. Although Hopkins is optimistic that their health has improved. The players are assessed daily, and each day they have been better than the one before.
“We had three players out,” Hopkins told the media.
“They all had kind of different experiences with it.
“Chids (Alex Chidiac), it hit her quite hard for a short period of time. she’s eased back into things quite gradually this week.
“She’s trained really well this morning. Tiff Eliadis as well trained really well and Casey Dumont had a tough time too.
“We’ve eased them in nicely. Whether they’ll be able to last a game I’m not sure. But they’re keen to play and I’m keen to play them as well.
“It might not be sensible to play all three from the start…I’m not sure yet.”
The three players will be welcome returns. Victory have lost their previous two games and need as many options as possible to return to the winners’ list.
Hopkins highlighted the importance of the younger fringe players. Alana Murphy has appeared regularly for Victory this season. The impressive midfielder is expected to take on a bigger role in the coming weeks.
“Obviously you miss good players, but the way we’re looking at it, its an opportunity for other players to step up.
“We’ve lost Kyra (Cooney-Cross) who’s one of the best young players in the country at the moment.
“But I believe that we’ve got some of them coming through in Alana Murphy that will be right up there in a couple of years as well.
“It’s a great opportunity for players like Murph to actually start a few games and to get some experience and maybe get more experience that she would have got if Kyra was around.”
Without Ayres or Williams. Victory might turn to Maja Markovski to start in attack. The tall striker has scored once so far this season but has been composed and skillful when used late in high-pressure situations.
“I think that she will start… over the past 12 months or so she’s really started to fill me with more confidence in the type of player she can be.
“She can come into this side and be quite effective. We might have to adjust the way we play slightly to get the best out of her but she’s proved to me over the last three to four weeks that she really wants to play and she’s prepared to work hard for it.
“If we have to put her in this week which looks likely, I’m really confident she can go in and be really effective for us.”
Francesca Iermano is another possible inclusion that Victory fans are eager to get a look at. The former FV Emerging player was signed as an injury replacement but has yet to take the field in the A-League Women.
“I’ve been really impressed with Fran, even this week (in training) she was up there with our best two to three players.
“She’s of the girls that’s trained with us in the off-season that’s really impressed and we had no hesitation.
“We sat down, spoke to all the coaches and staff when we were going to have to bring in another player and it was unanimous through the group that Fran was going to be that player.
“She can give us a little bit of versatility. She can play in all the wide area. Full back is obviously a position she can drop in as well.
“What’s really impressed me is We’ve tried her in a number of different positions and she just puts her head down and gives it a go.”
Despite her inexperience, Hopkins has faith that Iermano can deliver if called upon.
“I’m confident that she’s going to be in the squad this week and if I need to put her on I’m more than confident to put her on… she doesn’t have any fear…she just grabs the opportunity and runs with it. I’ve been really impressed with her.”
As they look to rebound from consecutive losses, Victory has used the last week to adjust tactically and train different scenarios. Hopkins is aware that the club has underperformed recently but has made the best of a tough situation.
“Where we are the moment, we would have loved to play last week. To have gone to Newcastle and put it right.
“What we’ve had a chance to do is to work on a few things from the previous week and try and put a few things in place that are going to help us be better this week.
“I think this is a big game for us this week, and the players realize that.
“If we get back to winning ways we’re right back on track if we don’t, we’re back in the back with a number of teams.
“I’m sure that the performance that we get from the girls will really show how serious we think this game is.”
Melbourne Victory travel to face Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday at 4:05pm AEST (5:05am GMT).