Toivonen set for derby comeback

Swedish striker Ola Toivonen is in contention to return for Melbourne Victory when they face Melbourne City in Saturday's derby.

Toivonen, who has scored 10 goals in his debut A-League campaign with Kevin Muscat's team, has been out for the past three weeks after taking a knock in training.

Muscat said the 64-cap Sweden international had returned to training on his own ahead of the meeting with Melbourne City.

"He's made good progress from last week," added the coach. "The view is for him to train with the team at the end of the week.

"He might wake up with pain one day and we'll have to alter the plan, but at this stage in time there's a decent chance he'll play."

Muscat, who has won two championships with Victory including the 2014-15 double, will take charge of the club for the 200th time on Saturday.

And he says at this stage of his career, winning is not enough – he wants to win in a certain way.

"I want to be known as a proactive coach," he added. "A manager that wants to attack, that's trying to win a game, not as a manager that's trying not to lose and might win.

Victory have only taken one point from their last two games, and have fallen nine points behind leaders Perth Glory.

But they are looking healthier at the moment, after Raul Baena returned from a hamstring problem and Georg Niedermeier made his first start since November in last weekend's 1-1 draw against Wellington.

Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda, who has been on the bench for the past two matches, will be in contention to start at Marvel Stadium against City.

The Victory are 21/20 to win their game against City, who are 5/2, with the draw 12/5.

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Rudan hails ‘fantastic’ Cacace

Coach Mark Rudan singled out youngster Liberato Cacace for praise after Wellington Phoenix's 1-1 home draw with defending champions Melbourne Victory.

The wingback has only missed two of the Phoenix's 19 games this season, after signing his first professional contract last May.

He's showing no signs of fatigue, despite stepping up to senior level at the age of 20, and was Wellington's best player against Victory at Eden Park.

"He was superb tonight, he was, and he's one I'm extremely proud of as well," said Rudan, who was hired as coach two weeks after Cacace was signed to a two-year deal. "He's a fantastic kid, he really is; we gave him enough time in pre-season to make sure.

"His parents should be awfully proud and today he stood up. I challenged the players – in an arena like this, in front of a big crowd, good players stand up and they create moments – he created a lot of moments tonight."

Rudan felt his team weren't at their best against Victory, when they were pegged back by Keisuke Honda's penalty after Roy Krishna had opened the scoring.

It's now just one win in six for the Phoenix, whose advantage over seventh-placed Newcastle has been reduced to six points with eight rounds remaining.

"It wasn't one of our better performances," said Rudan. "We know it's the final stretch, and we're asking for a little bit more from our players and that's the challenge for them, but I'm sure we'll find the right ingredients so that next week in Sydney we're better than we were tonight."

Wellington Phoenix are 13/5 to win their next game against Sydney FC, who are 10/11 with the draw 11/4.

The Phoenix are 12/1 to win 1-0.

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Muscat hails ‘outstanding’ Kamsoba

Coach Kevin Muscat praised youngster Elvis Kamsoba after Melbourne Victory came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against Wellington Phoenix.

The defending champions fell behind to Roy Krishna's 12th goal of the season, with Japanese marquee Keisuke Honda netting the equaliser from the penalty spot.

Victory's chances of catching Perth Glory in the battle for the Premiers' Plate took a hit when the Phoenix held them for the third time this season.

Kamsoba, who was a part-timer in the NPL before joining Muscat's side last month, was impressive at Eden Park.

The coach said he was hugely impressed with the way the 22-year-old had made the adjustment from the NPL.

"He did surprise the entire staff with his actual conditioning, his stamina," said Muscat.

"We've had players previously come out of the NPL, we've done it frequently, and normally it takes them a good six months to get up to speed in terms of conditioning, what's required.

"Within a month, six weeks, we thought heis progress has been that rapid; he'll keep working and he'll become a bigger threat.

"He was outstanding – I think everybody here appreciated he was the most exciting player on the pitch."

Victory were pleased with their display, particularly with seven players unavailable for the game including Corey Brown who fell sick overnight.

Anthony Lesiotis came in for his first start, Raul Baena was able to get through a full 90 minutes and both Honda and Georg Niedermeier got through some game time following their injuries.

Swedish striker Ola Toivonen, who remained on the sidelines with a thigh injury, could return for next weekend's derby against Melbourne City.

Melbourne Victory are 21/20 to win their next game against Melbourne City, who are 12/5 with the draw 5/2.

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Phoenix and Victory share spoils again

Roy Krishna is joint-top of the A-League scoring chart after netting in Wellington Phoenix's 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory in Auckland.

The Fijian striker joined Sydney FC's Adam le Fondre on 12 goals for the season as he fired Mark Rudan's side ahead.

But it wasn't enough to topple the defending champions at Eden Park, as Victory secured a point thanks to Keisuke Honda's penalty.

It was the third consecutive draw between the teams this season, and left the Phoenix equal on points with fifth-placed Melbourne City, while Kevin Muscat's side remain six points off league leaders Perth Glory.

The visitors came close to breaking the deadlock in the first half, but Wellington keeper Filip Kurto did well to deny Kenny Athiu.

The Phoenix wasted their best chance of the opening half when David Williams screwed his shot wide from a Louis Fenton cutback.

Sarpreet Singh, who had been their most creative player in the first half, played a key role in the home side's goal.

He twisted clear before firing in an angled cross that Storm Roux failed to deal with and Krishna powered past keeper Lawrence Thomas.

Minutes later he had a good chance to double the Phoenix's lead from a counter attack, but Thomas made a good save at full stretch.

Victory levelled on 68 minutes when Leigh Broxham went down in the area as Fenton and Krishna sought to block his run.

Honda, who had come on earlier in the second half, beat Kurto with his spot-kick for his fifth goal of the campaign.

Singh said after the game: "I still think we can get a lot better. We showed in patches what we're capable of and it's just about doing that for longer periods."

Wellington Phoenix are 13/5 to win their next game against Sydney FC, who are 10/11 with the draw 11/4.

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New Phoenix formation suits skipper

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante is enjoying playing in a new system in what's set to be his final season in the A-League.

The 36-year-old has already changed his mind once about retirement – he made the call at the start of last year before agreeing a new deal – and at this stage he's not ruling out playing on in 2019/20.

But whether or not it turns out to be his final season, he's glad he opted to keep playing as he is revelling in being part of a central defensive trio.

The Phoenix are having a good season under Mark Rudan, a Finals Series spot well within their grasp.

They are sixth in the table, eight points clear of seventh-placed Newcastle with nine games left.

Durante has been with Wellington since 2008 and is the A-League's all-time record holder in appearances with 295.

He's had six different coaches at the club, and says he's enjoying how Rudan has the team playing.

Speaking of the three centre-backs formation, the former New Zealand international said: "I know it really well from playing with the All Whites and at some previous clubs; it suits me to a tee.

"It's a position where you need really good organisation skills and reading of the game and it is something I believe I possess. [I'm] enjoying the season, enjoying my own form at the moment."

Durante said he hadn't yet made a firm decision about whether to extend his career beyond the end of this season.

"If this is to be my last season, this is the way I want it to be, enjoying it, the team doing well, [the] supporters and fans being really positive. If it is my last season, then I will go out really happy," he added.

Wellington Phoenix are 20/1 to win the Grand Final.

The Phoenix are 21/10 to win their next game against Melbourne Victory, who are 11/10 with the draw 11/4.

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Victory seek famous double

Kosta Barbarouses doesn't think Melbourne Victory will have problems combining their A-League honours chase with the start of their Asian Champions League season.

Victory have a big task on their hands to deny Perth Glory the Premiers' Plate this season, particularly after losing twice to Tony Popovic's side.

They have a seven-point gap to make up over the remaining nine games of the campaign but New Zealand international forward Barbarouses feels they can do it.

That's despite the fact that by the time the A-League regular season ends in late April they will have played their first six Group F matches in the Asian Champions League.

Barbarouses says Victory won't be tempted to put more of a focus on their ACL campaign and less on the A-League because of their gap behind Perth.

"Definitely not. Once you get into that headspace, you'll probably find yourself in fourth of fifth by the time the season finishes," said the striker, who has scored 10 times this season.

"We're very serious about both competitions and we're not going to take our foot off either pedal. We want to really make a push for it, and push Glory or whoever's up there all the way … anything can happen."

Victory will start their ACL season on 5th March against Korean side Daegu FC and will look to Japanese marquee Keisuke Honda to make a big impact in the competition.

Honda will be pushing for a start in Friday's clash with Wellington Phoenix in Auckland, but captain Carl Valeri will miss out due to a hamstring problem.

Melbourne Victory are 9/4 to win the Grand Final and 11/10 to win their next game against Wellington Phoenix, who are 21/10 with the draw 11/4.

Kamsoba cashing in on trial spell

Elvis Kamsoba says the time he spent on trial with Melbourne Victory is helping him adjust to his first A-League season.

The 22-year-old has played seven games for the defending champions since being signed when the transfer window opened.

His previous experience was in the NPL but he's been able to step up and impressed when making his second start in last weekend's defeat to Perth Glory.

He played on the left of midfield in support of striker Kenny Athiu and was a threat to the league leaders.

Though he only joined the team officially on 3rd January, Kamsoba had been brought in by coach Kevin Muscat late last year for a trial.

"Being a part of the squad for two months prior to signing was good, it helped me a lot," he said. "The coach was always telling me I had to sharpen up and be ready for January.

"So being with the team, training with them every day prepared me to perform when the opportunity came my way."

The former Melbourne Knights and Avondale FC player said it had been an adjustment, coming from part-time level.

"Now I can come in every day ready and refreshed to train and improve; with each week I've adapted better and better," he added. "I'm enjoying it, it's good – a good environment and club to be in."

The defeat to the Glory left Victory seven points behind in the race for the minor premiership.

Their task will get even more difficult next month when they start their Asian Champions League campaign, while Perth will be able to concentrate just on the league.

Melbourne Victory are 9/4 to win the Grand Final.

Victory are 11/10 to win their next game against Wellington Phoenix , who are 21/10 with the draw 11/4.

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Muscat unhappy with spot-kick

Coaches Tony Popovic and Kevin Muscat were at odds over the penalty that helped Perth Glory beat Melbourne Victory 2-1 in the meeting of the A-League's top two sides.

Perth went ahead when they were awarded a penalty, as Neil Kilkenny's pass into the penalty area struck Corey Brown on the hand.

Brown was close to Kilkenny and didn't move his arm or hand, but referee Jarred Gillett pointed to the spot and a VAR referral upheld the decision.

Kilkenny took the spot-kick himself and beat keeper Lawrence Thomas, with the league leaders doubling their advantage eight minutes later through Diego Castro's volley.

Muscat said he'd spoken to Gillett after the game and been told full-back Brown had moved his hand towards the ball.

"Clearly Corey's only a metre away and I've watched the replay – Corey hasn't moved his hand," said the Victory coach. "So what it does do now is any time any ball hits someone in the hand in the box, every team's gonna expect a penalty.

"And that gave them a little bit of momentum and it was a goal that could have been avoided from our perspective."

Popovic, whose team have now opened up a seven-point gap at the top of the table over Victory, said he felt the decision was correct.

"I haven't seen the replay, but I did see it on screen and look, I'm not surprised he gave it," he said. "Once he gave it, I didn't expect it to be overturned, so that was it."

With nine rounds left Perth are in prime position to win their first major trophy since the NSL championship in 2004.

Popovic said it was premature to regard the win as decisive in the battle for the Premiers' Plate, despite it being the Glory's second of the campaign away to Muscat's side.

The Glory are 15/8 to win the Grand Final, with the Victory available at 9/4.

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Glory go seven points clear

Perth Glory opened up a seven-point gap at the top of the A-League with a 2-1 win away to nearest rivals Melbourne Victory.

Tony Popovic's side took a big step towards securing the premiership after taking a two-goal lead in the second half at AAMI Park.

Though Kosta Barbarouses pulled one back with 13 minutes to go the visitors held strong to see off Kevin Muscat's side for the second time this season.

There was controversy over the first Glory goal, scored from the penalty spot by Neil Kilkenny on 61 minutes, but Diego Castro produced an emphatic finish to double their advantage eight minutes later.

Neither side could find a cutting edge in the first half, with Barbarouses firing over and Elvis Kamsoba drawing a save from Perth keeper Liam Reddy.

Ivan Franjic sliced a shot wide for the visitors and they twice went close just before the break. First Chris Ikonomidis shot into the side netting, before Kenny Athiu had an effort blocked from close range.

Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas did well to palm away an effort from Castro just before the hour mark, with Perth then taking the lead.

Kilkenny's flicked pass into the penalty area struck the hand of full-back Corey Brown and he stepped up to convert the spot-kick.

Ikonomidis set up the second goal for Castro, his cross being volleyed past Thomas to put the Glory firmly in the driving seat.

Though Victory had Keisuke Honda making his return from a niggling hamstring injury they couldn't find a way back although Barbarouses' goal from Leigh Broxham's reverse pass made for a tense finish.

The Victory are 9/4 to win the Grand Final, with Perth priced at 15/8.

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Popovic tipped to win trophy

Tony Popovic could be on the way to earning his first A-League championship as a coach, believes the keeper who won the Asian Champions League under him.

Ante Covic, who was player of the tournament when Western Sydney became the first Australian team to lift the ACL trophy in 2014, is impressed with the way Popovic has transformed Perth Glory.

The Western Australia club missed out on the Finals Series last season but have topped the table this time since early on.

If they can win away to second-placed Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park on Sunday it would open up a seven-point gap at the top.

Covic, who played for Perth as well as Wanderers, is backing Popovic to match his achievement with Western Sydney by winning the minor premiership in his first season as coach.

"Popa (Popovic) has got the experience and knows what it takes; this could be his year," he said. "Success is a fine line for a coach but he will have learnt a lot from his years at the Wanderers."

Popovic led Western Sydney into three A-League Grand Finals without success, and Covic said: "You have to ask yourself how many times is he going to be in a Grand Final before one falls for him – I reckon this one could have his name on it."

Perth are unbeaten in eight matches, and beat Victory 3-2 away from home early in the season.

Covic said on form, Sunday's clash would be a Grand Final as the teams were the standouts in the A-League.

"Perth have a very balanced squad and when a coach has a headache picking players that is when you know a team is in a good position," he added. "The firepower that both teams have is by far and away the best in the league."

The Glory are 21/10 to win their next game against Melbourne Victory, who are 5/4 with the draw 5/2.

Glory are 15/4 to win the game by a one-goal margin.

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