Muscat pleased with draw

Coach Kevin Muscat was delighted with Melbourne Victory's commitment in their 1-1 draw with Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champions League.

Jai Ingham cancelled out Huang Bowen's opener in the first half at AAMI Park as the home side collected their first point in Group F.

With the reigning A-League champions making eight changes from their 1-0 defeat at Adelaide United at the weekend, Muscat fielded an inexperienced team against the Chinese side.

Victory had conceded nine goals and scored just two across their first three games in the ACL this year. Four of them had come in the first meeting of the teams in Guangzhou two weeks earlier but this time they performed well to secure a point.

"I'm really pleased for the players that were out there obviously; they worked really hard, understanding the quality of the opponent," said Muscat.

"We changed things a little bit in the way we set up and we created enough chances to obviously get the goal and had some more opportunities as well so it was a pleasing night."

The coach was delighted with the way Victory stuck to their game plan against Guangzhou, who are second in the group two points behind Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

"We were very disciplined and understood how we were going to try and gain ascendancy and gain an advantage tonight and with a plan, if you haven't got a certain amount of desire and a maximum commitment, a plan is worth nothing so tonight, very pleasing," he added.

"There's a challenge to some of the boys that are going to have to back up on Saturday and there's a lot of players who, there'll be players who come into the team and the challenge is laid down to everybody now."

Melbourne Victory are 5/1 to win the A-League Grand Final and 7/4 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 11/8 with the draw 13/5.

Ingham earns point for Victory

Melbourne Victory fielded an inexperienced side for their Asian Champions League home clash with Guangzhou Evergrande but were able to pick up their first point of the competition with a 1-1 draw.

Kevin Muscat's side are out of contention to qualify for the knockout phase, having lost their first three games including a 4-0 thrashing in Guangzhou earlier this month.

Muscat made eight changes from the team that lost their A-League game with Adelaide United four days earlier, saving both Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen for A-League finals duty.

Terry Antonis, who had missed the China trip with a knee injury, set up the first chance of the match in the opening two minutes at AAMI Park but saw Kenny Athiu head wide.

Antonis then tested keeper Liu Dianzuo with a well-struck shot after linking up with Elvis Kamsoba and Josh Hope.

Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas, restored to the starting side, did well to deny former Tottenham and Barcelona midfielder Paulinho but Guangzhou took the lead midway through the first half.

Paulinho picked up the ball deep in his own half and drove forward before cutting the ball back for Huang Bowen to slot past Thomas.

The home side were level within two minutes, thanks to Jai Ingham. The forward, who has only started one of Victory's 26 A-League games this season, grabbed his chance to fire home when Antoni's pass to Athiu was deflected into his path by defender Gao Zhunyi.

Thomas gathered at the second attempt as he dealt with a cross from He Chao before the interval and, in the second half, parried a drive from Yang Liyu before Zhang Linpeng fired into the side-netting.

Paulinho headed wide five minutes from time, with Guangzhou's final chance seeing Talisca scrape the post with a free-kick.

Melbourne Victory are 5/1 to win the A-League Grand Final and 7/4 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 11/8 with the draw 13/5.

Thomas available for Reds clash

Goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas is available again for Melbourne Victory as they travel to Adelaide United looking for a win to keep alive their top-two chances.

Coach Kevin Muscat has a fully-fit squad at his disposal for the Coopers Stadium clash against a United side that are one place but nine points behind them in fourth.

Thomas, who has missed the last three matches with a knee injury, is the club's first-choice keeper but Matt Acton has performed well in his absence.

Muscat is not ready to divulge who will start the game against the Reds.

Acton has been an A-League understudy for five seasons, making just eight A-League starts since winning a place in Brisbane Roar's squad in 2013.

Muscat said of Adelaide: "They're desperate for a home final. Especially after last year, that first elimination final was away, was here [in Melbourne].

"Somehow they maybe leave a little bit in the tank for when they play us. I can't remember a dull game against them."

If Victory can't overhaul Sydney FC for second spot they will face eight games in 33 days, including at least four away days, before the Grand Final.

They have to play their remaining three Asian Champions League group games before the end of May, which will stretch their resources.

It will also serve as a distraction for their A-League Finals Series, given that they have no chance of qualifying for the ACL knockout stages following three defeats in their first three matches.

Adelaide, who are aiming to hold off Melbourne City and Wellington to secure fourth place, have named Jordan Elsey in an extended squad after returning from injury, while Pacifique Niyongabire has been promoted.

Melbourne Victory are 9/5 to win their next game against Adelaide United, who are 7/5 with the draw 13/5.

Victory still challenging for second

Georg Niedermeier scored his first goal for Melbourne Victory to seal a 2-1 win over A-League bottom club Central Coast Mariners.

Victory ended their home season by rebounding from their midweek 4-0 drubbing in the Asian Champions League at the hands of Guangzhou Evergrande.

They will go into the final two rounds of the season two points behind Sydney FC in the battle a second-place finish that would earn a place in next year's Asian Champions League preliminary round.

Niedermeier delivered the win 11 minutes from time at AAMI Park as he converted a cross from Kosta Barbarouses.

Ola Toivonen had given the home side the lead, with Matt Simon levelling from the spot for the Mariners.

Keisuke Honda had a 25-yard effort well saved by keeper Ben Kennedy in the 12th minute, with the Japanese star then finding the side netting from Barbarouses' cross.

Victory went ahead with Toivonen's 12th league goal of the campaign midway through the first half, as he finished off after playing a one-two with Elvis Kamsoba in the penalty area.

Kennedy saved from Barbarouses and James Troisi before the break, but it was the Mariners who scored next when Thomas Deng tripped Simon who took the penalty himself and beat Matt Acton.

Leigh Broxham's strike flew just wide midway through the second half, with Victory then going ahead for the second time through Niedermeier.

Acton made a superb save late on to deny Stephen Mallon and preserve the home side's lead.

Coach Kevin Muscat was pleased what he saw from his team, particularly after the disappointment of their Chinese trip.

"It was a massive response from the playing group and in the end we got our just rewards with the result, but first and foremost it was a performance that gives you that opportunity," he said.

Victory are 17/10 to win their next game against Adelaide United, who are 8/5, with the draw 9/4.

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Valeri to retire at season’s end

Melbourne Victory captain Carl Valeri has announced he will be hanging up his boots at the end of the season.

The 34-year-old has won two championships with the club, the second coming last term when they beat Newcastle Jets in the Grand Final.

He also won the Premier's Plate with Victory in 2014/15 and was the players' player of the season in the same campaign.

Valeri, who joined the club in 2014 after spending a decade playing in Italy, said: "After much consideration, the choice for me is a happy one and something I am at peace with.

"I am excited and committed to play out the rest of the current season and hopefully achieve success with the group, knowing this will be my last with the football club."

Valeri captained Australia at the 2001 Under-17 World Championships and went on to play 52 times for the Socceroos.

He was part of their squad for the 2007 Asian Cup and played in all three of Australia's group games at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Valeri started all 29 games in his first season with Victory in 2014/15 when they won the championship, and was named captain of the club before the start of the following campaign.

Coach Kevin Muscat said of him: "The way Carl has led the group has been second to none and I'm extremely grateful for the support he has given me as the captain and as a person."

Club chairman Anthony Di Pietro believes Valeri will leave a lasting legacy.

"He is a humble, no-fuss man – he will no doubt play it down, but it should be known that he has made a significant impact on our club through his leadership and putting into action the values we stand for and strive to achieve," he said.

The Victory are 3/10 to win their next game against Central Coast Mariners, who are 15/2, with the draw 9/2.

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Another ACL defeat for Victory

Melbourne Victory suffered a third consecutive Asian Champions League defeat when they went down 4-0 in China to Guangzhou Evergrande.

The A-League champions were three goals down before half-time at Tianhe Stadium, with former Benfica striker Anderson Talisca scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes.

It leaves Kevin Muscat's side marooned at the bottom of Group F while the other three teams in the group have six points each.

Talisca could have had a hat-trick inside 10 minutes, being denied with his first effort when his curled free-kick hit the post.

He broke the deadlock two minutes later when he headed home a cross from Gao Lin, and then made it 2-0 with a superb curling strike into the top corner from 20 yards.

Victory keeper Matt Acton saved three times from former Tottenham and Barcelona midfielder Paulinho in the first half, before Kosta Barbarouses forced a save from keeper Liu Dianzuo at the other end with a low strike.

The visitors couldn't prevent Guangzhou grabbing a third goal three minutes before the break, when Yang Liyu finished off a counter-attack by finishing into the bottom corner.

Barbarouses created a chance for Victory early in the second half, but Keisuke Honda fired across the face of goal.

The home side scored their fourth goal with 17 minutes left, despite the best efforts of Acton.

The keeper parried a Talisca free-kick and then denied Gao, only for the ball to bounce in for an own goal off Leigh Broxham.

Muscat said: "We were beaten by the better team on the night. To concede two goals in the first 10 minutes, it became very, very difficult from there."

Melbourne Victory are 3/1 to win the A-League Grand Final.

Victory are 3/10 to win their next game against Central Coast, who are 15/2 with the draw 9/2.

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Ninkovic goal settles Big Blue

A deflected goal from Milos Ninkovic in injury time gave Sydney FC a 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory at the SCG.

The Sky Blues claimed a fourth win in five outings to keep alive their chances of winning the minor premiership.

It gave Steve Corica's side a four-point cushion in their battle with Victory for a top-two finish that would give them a shot at Asian Champions League football next year.

Having lost both their previous Big Blues clashes of the season, Sydney FC looked set to have to share the spoils this time.

It was only when Ninkovic's effort deflected off the legs of a defender and past keeper Matt Acton that they secured what was their fourth win in five games.

The loss for Victory, which effectively ended their chances of finishing in top spot, was compounded by a suspected serious knee injury for Terry Antonis.

The midfielder will have scans on Monday that will determine whether he can play again this season.

Sydney FC, having already been denied a goal when Adam le Fondre's chipped shot bounced off the top of the crossbar, took the lead in the sixth minute.

Brandon O'Neill started the move with a sliding tackle on Kosta Barbarouses and he finished it with a rocket left-foot shot past keeper Lawrence Thomas.

They only led for nine minutes, though, as Keisuke Honda threaded a ball through for Barbarouses to dink over the advancing Andrew Redmayne for the equaliser.

O'Neill brought a fingertip save out of Acton 17 minutes from time with another shot from distance.

The winner came when Ninkovic latched onto a Siem de Jong cross, the Serbian's effort deflecting to trickle into the net.

The Sky Blues are 7/10 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 7/2 with the draw 3/1.

Sydney are 17/2 to win the game 1-0.

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Victory boosted by’statement’ win

German defender Georg Niedermeier is glad Melbourne Victory can take some momentum into Saturday's vital clash with Sydney FC.

The game could decide which of the Big Blue rivals finishes second in the A-League and claim the reward of an Asian Champions League qualifier spot.

Victory have won their last two matches, most notably beating Perth Glory at HBF Park in their last match.

Kevin Muscat's side became only the second team to beat the league leaders all season – the others were Sydney FC in December – and it brought them to within a point of the second-placed Sky Blues.

With only three more rounds left after this, it's added extra spice to the meeting at the SCG.

Victory have won both their games against their big rivals this season and now have the chance of a sweep of wins over them for the first time.

Ola Toivonen was on target in both the meetings – a 2-1 win in Sydney in November and a success at AAMI Park in January by the same scoreline.

Niedermeier, who is back to full fitness after multiple injury concerns earlier in the season, said the win over the Glory had been significant.

"We were never off confidence to become champions, but we wanted to make a statement (in Perth) and I think we did that in a remarkable way," he said.

Speaking of the Sky Blues clash, Niedermeier said: "They're sitting one point ahead of us so we know what's coming up.

"They want to turn us over and make a better result, so we have to put everything again in it and take another third win to get them in the ladder and hopefully then we can keep second place."

Victory are 13/5 to win their next game against Sydney FC, who are 1/1, with the draw 5/2.

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De Jong set to stay on bench

Sydney FC are likely to keep Netherlands international Siem de Jong on the bench for the Big Blue clash with Melbourne Victory on Saturday.

De Jong came off the bench to score a superb goal in last weekend's 3-1 victory against Brisbane Roar, having already set up a goal minutes earlier, in what was his comeback game from a two-month knee injury lay-off.

But head coach Steve Corica is believed to be ready to name an unchanged starting side for the SCG match against a Victory side who are one point below them.

Marquee man de Jong, who is on loan from Ajax, is set to stay on the bench, while veteran Alex Brosque partners Adam le Fondre up front.

Anthony Caceres could start alongside Milos Ninkovic in the attacking midfield roles.

De Jong has scored four goals and claimed two assists in his 12 appearances and is looking forward to his first Big Blue.

"It's a big game and I'm happy to be part of one this weekend," he said. "Always nice these kinds of games for the fans and the players as well.

"The ones I've played in Europe always give a little bit extra to the players with the atmosphere in the stadium and it'll be the same this weekend."

The Sky Blues have lost both their games against Victory this season, and need to put that right to keep alive their chances of overhauling Perth Glory at the top of the table.

The Glory go into the round with a six-point advantage and a goal difference that is better by 11.

The Sky Blues are 1/1 to win their game against the Victory, who are 13/5, with the draw 5/2.

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Victory keep premiership chase going

Two set-piece goals in a 2-0 win for Melbourne Victory mean Perth Glory still have some work to do to secure the A-League Premier's Plate.

Kevin Muscat's side made sure of their place in the Finals Series for the seventh straight season thanks to goals from Ola Toivonen and Keisuke Honda at HBF Park.

Toivonen fired home a precise free-kick in the first half for what was the A-League's 5,000th goal.

Leaders Perth were unlucky when Diego Castro's free-kick from a similar range rebounded off the bar, and they conceded the killer second goal from a penalty which Honda converted.

Victory consolidated third place in the table, handing the home side just their second defeat of the season – their only previous loss came at home to Sydney FC in December.

Perth had most of the clear-cut chances, starting when Carl Valeri's eighth-minute stray back pass put in Joel Chianese but keeper Lawrence Thomas made the save.

Midway through the first half Chris Ikonomidis scooped an effort over the crossbar in a one-on-one with Thomas.

Toivonen broke the deadlock five minutes later, curling home a 25-yard free-kick for his 11th goal of the campaign.

A Chianese header hit the top of the bar late in the first half, and the pressure on the visitors' goal continued after the break as Thomas needed to push away a Chianese shot.

Victory, who saw Barbarouses hit the side-netting following a pass from James Troisi, got the chance to double their advantage when Scott Neville handled in the area.

Honda stepped up to net his seventh goal of the season, sending Liam Reddy the wrong way from the penalty spot.

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

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