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.

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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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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Injury sidelines Baena

Melbourne Victory have a fresh injury to deal with as they look to stay in contention for the A-League minor premiership.

Raul Baena suffered a hamstring injury in training on Thursday and could be sidelined until the penultimate round.

The Spaniard, who is on loan until the end of the season from Granada CF, needs to be replaced in the side for the trip to leaders Perth Glory on Saturday.

Carl Valeri and Terry Antonis are fit to return in midfield but coach Kevin Muscat indicated both are lacking match sharpness. Thomas Deng, back from international duty with the Olyroos in Cambodia, has been included in the squad.

Muscat is set to restore Lawrence Thomas in goal against Glory, who have beaten Victory twice in Melbourne this season. The defending champions are 10 points behind Perth with just five games to go, so defeat this weekend would surely spell the end of their chances of finishing in top spot.

Victory beat Brisbane Roar 2-1 at home in their last match, having taking just two points from their previous four outings.

"Whether we're playing Perth here or Perth over across there, our mantra will be the same," said Muscat. "You might say it's not yielded you the result in the last two games so something's got to change.

"Well we've got to get better at how we want to play and that's the focus … we want to turn that performance a notch higher."

Speaking of Baena's injury, the coach said: "Considering his recent history that could be a week, two, three weeks (out). That's really unfortunate for him."

Melbourne Victory are 11/4 to win the Grand Final and 13/5 to win their next game against Perth Glory, who are 19/20 with the draw 13/5.

Muscat ‘very positive’ despite defeat

Kevin Muscat praised his Melbourne Victory side for sticking to their guns after conceding an early goal in their 2-1 Asian Champions League loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

The defending A-League champions were beaten by an 86th-minute goal from Daiki Watari in their Group F clash, leaving them bottom of the table without a point after two games.

But their coach was proud of the way his team played against the Japanese side.

"To come to Japan, dominate the football game, dominate possession, dominate the play and be the more aggressive team is very pleasing," he said.

"Sometimes the performance, you're not rewarded with the result, but to perform against a team here in Japan the way we did was very positive."

Victory made a poor start to the game, with Shunki Higashi netting in the third minute.

But Muscat said: "That didn't stop us from playing a brand of football and taking the football to the opposition, trying to attack the opposition, keeping possession of the football."

Victory had almost 65 per-cent of the possession, and drew level when Keisuke Honda scored his seventh goal of the season.

Muscat said: "There were long periods…where we kept Sanfrecce in their own half for long periods, created many, many opportunities, many, many chances, with exciting football.

"We conceded in the first three minutes and the last three minutes so it's difficult emotions at this point."

Korean side Daegu FC, who beat Victory 3-1 in Melbourne in their first game, are top of Group F with six points while Sanfrecce and Guangzhou Evergrande both have a win and a loss from their first two matches.

Victory will need to pick up points from their two games next month against Guangzhou – they go to China on 10th April and host them at AAMI Park on 13th April.

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

Victory are 2/5 to win their next game against Brisbane Roar, who are 6/1 with the draw 15/4.

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Late goal sinks Victory in Hiroshima

Melbourne Victory conceded a goal four minutes from time to go down 2-1 in their Asian Champions League match with Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

It means Kevin Muscat's side are up against it in their bid to qualify for the knockout stages, having suffered defeats in both their first two games.

Keisuke Honda marked his return to Japan with a goal for Victory, when he cancelled out Shunki Higashi's opener.

But Daiki Watari headed home for the hosts to settle the clash at the Hiroshima Big Arch.

Victory fell behind inside three minutes, when Higashi converted from Patric's cutback.

Higashi was denied a second soon afterwards when keeper Lawrence Thomas made a good save from his 25-yard strike.

But Victory had most of the ball in the first half and Honda had a decent chance 11 minutes before the break when he fired wide after a nice touch from Kosta Barbarouses.

The home side threatened on the stroke of half-time when it took a last-ditch challenge from Leigh Broxham to deny Patric.

Barbarouses saw an effort blocked by Takuya Wada early in the second half, with Honda then sending a powerful swerving effort narrowly over the crossbar.

Both sides continued to create chances, and the two keepers were busy.

Thomas made a fine save to deny Tsukasa Morishima before Watari fired wide for the hosts in the 65th minute.

At the other end James Troisi forced Hirotsugu Nakabayashi to tip his curling 25-yard effort over the bar.

Honda netted his seventh goal of the season on 71 minutes, converting a cross from full-back Storm Roux who had been released by Anthony Lesiotis' pass.

The game was up for grabs in the latter stages, with Thomas denying Patric in a one-on-one before Barbarouses fired into the side-netting from an angle.

Watari won it when he converted a cross from substitute Yoshifumi Kashiwa.

Victory are 2/5 to win their next game against Brisbane Roar, who are 6/1 with the draw 15/4.

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‘Struggling’ Victory glad of break

Defender James Donachie admits Melbourne Victory need to recharge their batteries after a first-up defeat to Daegu FC in the Asian Champions League.

The defending A-League champions went down 3-1 at home, despite taking the lead through Swedish striker Ola Toivonen.

They will have the benefit of a rest before they play their next game in Group H, when they travel to Japan to face Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Victory have no A-League game this weekend, a break that's badly needed given that they have now gone five games without a win.

Having to play a Grand Final re-match at home to Newcastle Jets last weekend, which they lost 2-0, made it a tough ask for the players to get through their first ACL clash.

"Rest is the most important thing. In the second half against Daegu, I think our boys showed we were struggling a bit," said Donachie.

"Not to take anything away from Daegu as they were better than us. We just need to rest well, especially in Japan which'll be a tough game again."

Kevin Muscat's team started their ACL campaign at a tough time, given that they had picked up just two points from their last four league matches.

The club have struggled in the competition and have only made it past the group stage once in their previous six appearances in the ACL.

Victory and Sanfrecce are the two teams without a point from their opening games, with the Japanese side having gone down to two first-half goals in their 2-0 defeat away to Guangzhou Evergrande.

Melbourne Victory are 4/9 to win their next game against Brisbane Roar, who are 11/2 with the draw 7/2.

Muscat bemoans inconsistency

Injuries and suspensions have had an impact on Melbourne Victory's ability to maintain their challenge for top spot in the A-League says head coach Kevin Muscat.

The defending champions are four points behind second-placed Sydney FC with six games to go, while the gap to leaders Perth Glory is now up to 10 points.

Their prospects of catching Tony Popovic's side took a big hit at the weekend when they lost 2-0 to Newcastle Jets, while Perth came from 2-0 down to earn a point at Melbourne City.

Victory, who have taken only two points from a possible 12, now also have to contend with playing their remaining A-League games alongside their Asian Champions League campaign.

Muscat is not conceding the Premiers' Plate to Perth or the Sky Blues, but admits Victory have been hard-pressed to maintain their form while they have had key players out.

Exciting winger Elvis Kamsoba is the latest to be ruled out, with scans on Friday revealing he has medial ligament damage and is likely to be out for two to three weeks.

Key striker Ola Toivonen was missing against Newcastle as he was still battling to recover from illness, though he is expected to be fit to face Korean club Daegu in Tuesday's first-up ACL clash.

"It's what has been happening all season. We have been consistently inconsistent with our line-ups with players injured, sick or suspended," said Muscat. "It certainly doesn't help build certainty, but the players have done well to hang in all season long.''

The coach felt his team had been unlucky to lose to the Jets, as they had created a lot of chances but not taken them.

"We got caught out by a sucker punch goal and although Dimi Petratos' shot was a great drive, it came in the last minutes when we realised that we weren't going to get anything out of the game," said Muscat.

''It was just one of those nights when you had a lot of the ball and got nothing. It's frustrating, but we now have to pick the bones from it and move on.''

Victory are 3/1 to win the Grand Final, with the Glory 13/8 and Sydney FC 5/2.

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Muscat praise’s Victory’s heart

Coach Kevin Muscat was delighted with the courage Melbourne Victory showed to take a point from the derby against Melbourne City.

The defending champions had to play 75 minutes with 10 men at Marvel Stadium after central defender Georg Niedermeier was sent off for a foul that conceded a penalty.

Jamie Maclaren netted from the spot, but with Victory having some luck as the woodwork twice saved them they earned a draw courtesy of Kosta Barbarouses' 50th-minute goal.

"The amount of courage and heart that we played with was really good, really nice to watch, really good to be involved in," said Muscat.

"Immediately after the break, we shifted things a little bit and (were) still going for the game.

"Still having two up top, two players in attack, comes with some risks without doubt, but when you've got a group of men that play with such desire and discipline, anything's possible."

The Victory coach said it had been a big challenge to play with ten men for so long, and the way the team had played increased his confidence for the rest of the season.

"We've got an opportunity to keep getting better and better and perform at a high level so during those seven league games, that's going to be the objective," he said.

Muscat's side have only taken two points from the last three games, and their task in catching Perth Glory for the Premiers' Plate is a tough one.

They will play four Asian Champions League group matches over the next two months at the same times as continuing their A-League campaign.

Victory are 6/5 to win their next game against Newcastle Jets, who are 11/5 with the draw 12/5.

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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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