Vidosic & Rojas: Belief is key
by Jonathan Tay
As the Finals loom closer, the competition pressure continues to build. Top four places are looking to be sewn up, and teams in contention are scrapping for every point.
For Melbourne City, they’ve comfortably been near the head of the table for the majority of the campaign, and whilst they haven’t yet clinched a finals berth, it would be surprising if they were to miss out.
Equally as surprising though, is the fact they have yet to beat any of their other top four opponents this season, with another loss, this time to Melbourne Victory, last weekend. It brings their combined record to four losses and a draw against Victory, Western United, and Sydney FC.
“I think it’s just belief,” City head coach, Dario Vidosic, said at his pre-match press conference. “The belief that we can do it, that we can play when the pressure is a little bit higher; it’s a mindset really. I explained to them this morning that we play in much tighter areas, bigger numbers [during training] and they show they’re capable of doing it everyday – it’s not something that we ask that’s beyond their capabilities, they’re all good footballers.
“Regardless who the opposition is, we want to win and play our brand of football; that’s the goal. We can say yes, we’ve played all the other teams in the top four and haven’t won a game. But other than the Sydney game (a 3-0 loss), and the first 20 minutes against Victory, we were the better team.
“Once we went 2-0 down [against Victory], it’s always more difficult. But in the second half I thought we were really good, we still controlled it and created enough chances that on another day you could still win that game. But it’s hard to concede goals and then have to come back. If we started well, it would have been a totally different outcome last weekend, but it is what it is.”
Maria Rojas, also speaking on Friday, conveyed the sense of a missed opportunity within the playing group as well. “Very disappointed, because it was a big game, the derby; as a club, every single game we go for the win,” the Chilean said.
“We do analyse the games, what we do well and don’t do well. This whole week it’s been [about] trying to be positive, to move on, we’ve been working really hard to fix what we need to work on, working on our finishing and getting into those areas. We were probably the better team but at the end of the day what matters is the score, putting the ball in the back of the net.”
“Unfortunately that’s football,” Vidosic continued. “That can happen, where sometimes you deserve it and you win, and other times you don’t deserve to and you still win as well. But the reality is, we haven’t won a game (against the other top-four sides). Tomorrow, we go out, same mentality, we just keep putting pressure.
“It’s just continually a process of improving and continuing to improve how we want to play and dictate games and to win – and a big part is belief. What we ask – to build up, to keep possession, to drag opponents away and then to occupy that space, the different mechanisms we have in our attack and defending – if we put that together then we’re a great team and we can win. But if we go away from that then it’s a flip of a coin.
“I know we’ve got a young squad, and they’re learning, [but] a fantastic opportunity after last weekend. We’ve had an excellent training week, and we’re looking forward to the challenge that Sydney FC will set.”
Both Rojas and Vidosic spent time talking about their attacking play, having had 23 shots last weekend (11 on target) and winning the expected goals battle (1.7 vs Victory’s 1.2), yet not being able to get on the scoresheet. “It’s just practice and a little bit of that composure, where you feel a little bit rushed, a little bit of pressure,” Vidosic explained. “They’re all very good players in our frontline. It’d be more concerning if we didn’t create shots and on another day we’d probably score four or five goals. We can look at the negatives, but there were also a lot of positives.”
Rojas also touched on her and fellow attacker Holly McNamara’s return to the squad after an ACL injury. 20-year-old McNamara has quickly impressed, having been on the sidelines for more than 12 months. “Obviously it takes a little bit of time,” Rojas, herself playing in her second match back for City, said. “With Wilky (Hannah Wilkinson) and Holly (McNamara) we were training a little before I left, but hadn’t played many games (together). But now, trying to work together and seeing how they play, what’s best for the team, that’s what we’ve been working hard on as well this week.
“I think it’s great to have such amazing players, a great team, and hopefully it works out for us. It’s great to have players who drive with the ball; [McNamara’s] quick, and we needed to have someone who plays well with the ball. She has a great intensity and knows how to drive balls into the [penalty] area. We just need to now work as a team. We always want to win, and I’m sure everyone is going to step up.
“For me, I left in December when I went away with Chile, but playing with Melbourne City, with Dario as a coach, for every single player it makes it easier. It’s not just about me, it’s about my team. Wherever I can help – if I need to play in different positions, I will – I’ll do my best. Obviously, I’m just coming back and adapting to what we need to do to make the finals, but I’m happy to be back. Tomorrow is an important game, and hopefully, I’ll bring more goals or assists for the team.”
Melbourne City have an immediate chance to improve their record against the A-League’s top teams, with a home date against Sydney on Saturday. Having been comprehensively beaten in the reverse fixture of this match, City know they’ll need to be at their best to get a result out of the Sky Blues. Having seen the Wellington Phoenix produce an upset against Sydney last weekend, City boss Vidosic knows a win is possible.
“That was probably the worst game of our season,” Vidosic recalled, of their 3-0 loss to Sydney in February. “We went away from our principles and what we’re about. Maybe we showed them a little too much respect that day; we were playing them in their home ground, maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves instead of just playing the game as just another game, another three points. But we’ve learned a lot from that; Sydney are ruthless, if you don’t turn up against them, they’ve got players that are dangerous and can hurt you. I’m expecting a much better performance from us tomorrow against them.
“Wellington deserved their win (last weekend); they fought for everything, they were aggressive, they were searching for a second [goal]. It’s a testament to the quality of the league that although they’re at the bottom, they’re a good team. All in all, every team can have an off-day, [but] we expect and plan for the best Sydney FC tomorrow. That’s why it’s important that you have to be ready, you have to prepare every week to produce your best because if it’s not, it may not be good enough.”
Rojas concurred with her coach’s assessment of their weekend task at hand. “We need to be switched on; we know what Sydney brings, we know how they play,” the forward said. “It’s not just about Sydney though; this week it’s been about trying to connect, trying to fix what we didn’t do last weekend. So we know what we need to do. Sydney are a strong side as well, but we also are very strong – we can play football and we want to show that.”
Hopkins: It’s a huge game for us
by Kieran Yap
Melbourne Victory head north to face Canberra United and a win against the fifth-placed side will be a big step towards securing a finals spot.
Following on from their impressive 2-0 win over Melbourne City, head coach Jeff Hopkins did not need to remind his players of the importance of the game. Everybody in the club is well aware that this game is almost a mini-final. Canberra United are five points behind Victory, but have an appeal pending that could see three points reinstated to their tally. The result on Saturday could have a big impact on the season.
“We understand the game tomorrow is going to be another huge game for us and for Canberra as well,” Hopkins told the media. “So we understand what type of game it’s going to be. It’s going to be a game where we have to push ourselves pretty hard physically, and emotionally as well.
“I’ve not needed to mention it. The players are talking about it, they understand. We had these conversations a week or 10 days ago about the next four games being really important.”
Although Victory will be feeling the pressure. Hopkins points out that for Canberra United, a good result is vital. He has encouraged his side to embrace the moment, and after the experience of last season’s title charge, he believes they can rise to the occasion.
“It’s a two-way thing,” he says of Canberra. “I’m sure they’re feeling exactly the same as well. We went into finals (last season) after having a huge run of games in a short time. At times we had to hang on. Other times we were pushed really hard.
“If you push through those games it really hardens you as a team. It gives you a lot of confidence that you know you can push through those harder periods in games. A lot of the time, that’s what finals are about.
“It’s taking advantage of what you do really well but making sure that when you’re under pressure, when the opposition are coming strong that you pull together, and you hold strong. You can often come out of those games stronger than when you went into them.
“You’ve got to embrace the nervousness and that energy. You’ve got to harness that energy and push it into a positive place. You will feel nervous, you will feel a little bit of apprehension… that’s what big games are all about. You’ve hit to embrace that rather than worry or be scared of that.”
Standing between Victory and a happy trip home is one of the league’s most feared attacks. Canberra United’s front four are fearsome when in form. They were unlucky not to score in ther last meeting between the two sides. On that day, Victory secured a 1-0 win, due largely to the heroics of Casey Dumont.
“They complement each other pretty well,” says Hopkins of the Michelle Heyman-led attack. They play some good football in their build-up but they are quite direct as well. They’ve got a real purpose about their play.
“We understand that it’s going to take a massive effort from us if we do get something there. It’s a bit of a fortress over there as well.”
Victory’s chances will be buoyed by the return of Jessika Nash. The right-back has been crucial to the way they defend and attack in her first season at the club. She missed the Melbourne Derby after starring for The Young Matildas against Guam and Kyrgyzstan.
Following an almost 30-hour return trip, she was rested for the big win. “She was physically fine last week,” said Hopkins. “The games and the travel back took a fair bit out of her emotionally.
“That was my decision rather than anyone else’s, I had a chat with the girls, (Alana Murphy, Ava Briedis, and Nash). They all put themselves up to play and I made the decision not to play Jess last week. We get a really fresh player coming into the line-up again this week, which is really important.”
With Nash rested last week, Victory shifted midfielder Paige Zois to right back. It was a role she had never played at senior level before, and one she performed excellently. Her spectacular goal aside, she helped Victory keep a clean sheet despite the best efforts of City’s attack of senior capped internationals.
“I thought her performance was fantastic last week,” says Hopkins of Zois’s game. “She came in and did a job in a position she’d never played in before and did a great job.
“She got the goal as well. She’s doing everything I’ve asked of her and she’s making it hard for me not to pick her, which is everything you want from a player coming into the side.”