Crikey intern Michael McGowan writes:
Your intrepid Crikey intern along with just over twenty thousand other football fans braved typically abominable Melbourne weather on Wednesday night to watch a pre-season friendly between the Melbourne Victory and the touring Glasgow Celtic.
AAMI Park had a distinctively Scottish feel to it as a more than healthy contingent of men wearing kilts forced some grudging applause from the Victory faithful before the match with an excellent rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone (I thought that was a Liverpool thing?) and things only improved from there.
For an exhibition match this game attracted quite a lot of interest in the build up and the absence of star Victory mid-fielder Carlos Hernandez in particular caused a stir after he was suspended by the club for failing to show up on time for the start of pre-season training.
However despite the pre match hype centring around players not in attendance few fans would have left disappointed with the quality of play on offer. Despite heavy rain falling for much of the match both sides managed to overcome the tough conditions and produce some enterprising play in a closely fought contest that was probably unlucky to only include one goal.
Early on it looked like the Victory might struggle. Needless turnovers in their own half meant that in the opening ten minutes it was only some tidy defending that kept Celtic from taking an early lead. It took an impressive save from new number one goalkeeper Tando Velaphi to keep Georgios Samaras from scoring in the opening minutes after a well timed through ball from winger Kris Commons had the Melbourne born Greek international one on one with the keeper.
The Victory managed to recover however and by midway through the first half the match had levelled out. 18 year old Marco Rojas was signed from the Wellington Phoenix in the off-season and was impressive in his opening match for the Victory. In a worrying sign for their A-League opponents both he and Archie Thompson combined on a number of occasions in the first half to form a potent attacking combo on the Victory’s left side and for the majority of the match the Victory’s best attacking raids came through those two.
The best chances of the half however went to Celtic. In the 27th minute Samaras again found himself in space on the edge of the box only to be denied once more by a classy Velaphi deflection which was cleared after some good scrambling from the Victory. Just before the break an increasingly frustrated (and water-logged) Samaras received the ball from an almost identical position but again Velaphi proved up to the task and the two sides went into the sheds locked up at nil all.
The second half saw the match open up even more as the large crowd became increasingly vocal. The Victory introduced Costa Rican striker Jean Carlos Solozano to play upfront off Danny Allsopp who to that point had been kept mostly in check, but it was still Rojas who looked the most likely for the Victory.
In the fiftieth minute the youngster took the ball on the break and made an impressive run down the right flank finally delivering an inch perfect cross to Solozano at the far post. Solozano failed to capitalise and there was much slapping of foreheads by the Victory fans at a golden opportunity missed.
Whilst the Victory had only been in training for a week before this match Celtic had two previous engagements against the Central Coast and Perth to improve their match fitness. As the second half wore on it began to show and Celtic were increasingly camped inside the Victory’s half awaiting only a capable final touch.
That touch came in the 77th minute when club captain Scott Brown, who came off the bench in the second half, connected with an inviting corner kick off Commons. Velpahi appeared unsighted and the low strike found the back of the net easily, putting to death hopes of an upset.
By the 85th minute fans were filing out. This ever committed reporter denied an increasingly protesting bladder and the call of an earlier train to wait it out in the hopes of a last minute equaliser but to no avail.
Celtic 1 Victory 0.