Outmanoeuvred by cross-town foes Melbourne City in a 2-1 derby defeat on Friday night, Melbourne Victory finished Round 18 of the A-League in ninth position on the table, six points adrift of the top six.
Compounding their misery, on Saturday it was revealed that star attacker Robbie Kruse had suffered a hamstring injury and would be out for six to eight weeks.
Though he may have ushered in a few more positive vibes around the club when he replaced Marco Kurz – especially with two Asian Champions League wins – Carlos Salvachúa has now gone winless in four A-League games in charge.
With Victory’s finals rivals all having games in hand and ACL commitments adding a further complication, the inescapable reality is that circumstances are increasingly pointing to Victory missing finals for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.
Whereas the departure of long-time coach Kevin Muscat at the end of the 2018-19 season had been conducted in a manner to ensure a seamless transition, it has since proved anything but.
While his exit was, on balance, in the best interest of both parties, a clear line is now able to be drawn from Victory’s recruitment in the wake of his departure to the state it is in now.
Perhaps, when Kruse hobbled down the tunnel in the 84th minute on Friday night, he may have taken Victory’s season with him.
It sits just three points clear of the bottom-placed Newcastle Jets, who beat Central Coast Mariners 4-3 on Sunday.
Off the field, Friday night’s Melbourne Derby’s crowd of just 16,872 fans should send warning signs to the game’s administrators that even marquee fixtures are feeling the strain of the A-League’s continued battle for eyeballs and attention.
Problems with fans being able to enter the ground also did nothing to endear the league to those that actually attended the fixture.
In a difficult time for the sport, those in power need to be doing everything they can to make attending A-League games easier – not harder.
Matildas in winning form
After a chaotic build-up, the Matildas’ slate of Olympic qualifiers finally got under way on Friday night, and Ante Milicic’s side started in style.
Led by a first-half Caitlin Foord hat-trick – much to the delight of her new employer Arsenal – the Matildas comfortably defeated Chinese Taipei 7-0 in wet conditions at Campbelltown Stadium.
With regular starters Ellie Carpenter, Alanna Kennedy and Sam Kerr all held back from the starting XI, the fixture gave an opportunity for Karly Roestbakken and Jenna McCormick to press their cases for continued opportunities, while Kyah Simon made her long-awaited return to competitive national team duty.
Bigger challenges, however, await Australia’s women; on Monday night they play Thailand, before a clash with China PR on Thursday.
The Steel Roses of China made the Round of 16 at last year’s Women’s World Cup and represent a significant challenge for Australia’s women.
And though less daunting on paper, Matildas fans will still remember that nervous 2018 Asian Cup semi-final when Chaba Kaew took Australia to penalties.
What a drip
Disappointingly, the Sydney derby, one of the marquee events on the A-League calendar was postponed.
The fixture was to be played on Saturday afternoon, but heavy rain in Sydney proved too much for the drainage at suburban ground Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
“With over 100 millimetres of rain falling in the Sydney area over the past two days, and in the interest of player welfare, all parties agreed that it was not possible to play the match as scheduled today,” head of the A-League Greg O’Rourke said.
“Whilst it is disappointing that a nearly sold-out crowd is unable to see another iconic Sydney derby, this was the right decision to give fans as much notice as possible under the circumstances.”
The date of the re-organised fixture is yet to be determined.
The waterlogged Sydney derby compounded what had already been a challenging week for football, with The Sydney Morning Herald breaking the news on Tuesday that the Korean carmaker Hyundai was prepared to walk away from a 15-year relationship with the game in June.
It could be the latest in a string of sponsorship departures in recent times, with ALDI, Caltex and NAB among others that are looking for the exits.
Football should not be a hard sell for sponsors.
It is the most popular game on the planet by some margin, one whose audience crosses all demographics and Australia’s national teams will be in regular international competition – in front of millions of eyeballs – regularly in coming years.
Those who declare the game, though popular around the world, doesn’t resonate with Australians forgot to tell their kids, who continue to play it in droves.
But ultimately, as any good advertiser will tell you, the key to effectively selling oneself in a crowded market are values.
What is the defining spirit of your product that others want to associate with? What stories are you trying to tell? What is in its soul?
What separates Australian football not only from other sports in the local marketplace, but from football around the world?
Australian football continues to grapple with these questions, with a seemingly endless and vitriolic debate at almost every aspect of the game and inconsistent messaging placing it behind the eight ball.
A more unified game can carve out a healthy place in the Australian sporting landscape as it pulls in a common direction.
It can begin to tell the stories of the joy and beauty that those that live it know are there.
We just need to get there.
Friday: Melbourne City 2-1 Melbourne Victory; Perth Glory 4-2 Wellington Phoenix
Saturday: Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers (postponed); Brisbane Roar 2-1 Adelaide United
Sunday: Newcastle Jets 4-3 Central Coast Mariners
Friday: Australia 7-0 Chinese Taipei