Coach’s ‘very rare’ trait taking Arzani to new heights at Victory: ‘The best thing for me’

Melbourne Victory defender Damien Da Silva’s 86th-minute helped his side come from behind to beat Melbourne City 2-1 at AAMI Park on Saturday night.

Tony Popovic’s side was made to work to claim Melbourne Derby bragging rights after Tolgay Arslan’s fourth-minute goal. Victory pegged one back before the break as Bruno Fornaroli scored from the penalty spot, and set the stage for Da Silva to clinch all three points with his late header from a corner routine.

The result extended Victory’s gap over fourth-placed Sydney FC to six points and halted City’s push towards the top six. City remain four points behind Western Sydney Wanderers in sixth.

Da Silva has now scored three goals after the 85th-minute mark of games this season, adding to a stoppage-time brace that earned Victory a 2-1 win over Western United in February.

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Daniel Arzani was particularly impressive for Victory and despite a handful of moments where his decision-making in the final third was lacking, the winger was involved in plenty of his side’s best attacking play – and most importantly, played 90 minutes for the second time in a row having gone 22 games prior without lasting a full game.

After watching Arzani’s display in the 2-1 win, Victory legend Archie Thompson praised the 25-year-old for his all-round Derby performance.

“The Arzani performance, it was also a great defensive display,” Thompson said.

“This is something we talk about, Popa (head coach Tony Popovic) has mentioned it, that’s the side of the game he wants to see (improved). For large periods of that second half he was defending, getting back.

“I love that close control,” Thompson added. “We saw it all over the park. I love when he gives and goes, and you can see the defenders stand off him because they don’t want to come in, and (then) he plays the ball in behind and gives space for other players to run into .

“He was just delightful to watch again… just a superstar full of confidence.”

Post-game, Arzani was asked to summarise his relationship with Popovic, and how the Victory boss has gone about unlocking his potential.

“To be honest, Popa (is) tough, but he’s very fair,” Arzani said.

“That’s what I love about him. He holds me accountable to everything. He pulls me into his office when it’s not good enough and he tells me to my face. I really appreciate it, honestly, because to have a manager that’s very upfront with you, that’s very rare these days.

“For me it’s been the best thing, because when it’s not good enough he tells me how it is, I go home and I’ve got to change it. I think you can see it’s been the best thing for me.”

City appeared vulnerable in the opening minutes of the Melbourne Derby as Victory got on the front foot but an errant pass in defence from Ryan Teague rendered the home side’s bright start meaningless, as Arslan swooped on possession and drove into the box to open the scoring in the fourth minute of play.

Victory, bruised by the early mistake, set about restoring parity and if not for the superb keeping of Jamie Young, would have succeeded prior to the 20-minute mark.

Arzani was a bright spark in the first half but frustrated Fornaroli when he elected to shoot instead of cross from a narrow angle in the 16th minute, as Young made a big save to keep City in front.

Jake Brimmer was next to put Young to the test, whipping a low, curling shot from the edge of the area toward the bottom-right corner which Young did well to tip around the post.

City were gifted the opening goal and defender Samuel Souprayen almost repaid the favour when his loose pass was pounced on by Zinedine Machach. The Victory star drove into the box but with Curtis Good in his path, fired wide as he searched for the bottom-left corner.

Victory had City under immense pressure – and in the 34th minute, that pressure told when Vicente Fernandez caught Jason Geria with a late challenge in the box, sending Fornaroli to the spot to score his 18th goal of the season.

Fornaroli thought he had a second when he nodded Arzani’s cross from a short corner routine past Young – but the offside flag denied the Socceroo his brace.

A big chance presented for Victory on the hour when Ben Folami set the ball for full-back Adama Traore to attack in the box, but the full-back missed the target altogether under pressure in a major let off for City.

Fornaroli, desperate to put Victory into the lead, attempted the audacious on the 75-minute mark, setting himself for a bicycle kick off Geria’s floated delivery that never looked likely to trouble Young in goal.

Socceroos duo Jamie Maclaren and Mathew Leckie came off the bench for City in the second half and the former was provided the chance to put the away side back on top when Arslan picked him out at the front post with an excellent cross.

Maclaren glanced his header across goal but the ball neither nestled into the back of the net or found Leckie streaming in at the back post.

Da Silva ventured forward for an 86th-minute Victory corner, taken shortly after Maclaren’s miss down the other end, and was left all alone in the six-yard box as Teague swung his delivery into the box.

The centre-back nodded the ball past Young to complete the comeback for Victory.

Arslan had a late, late chance to bring City back level again but fired high over the bar as City heads went to hands, and eventually referee Alireza Faghani’s whistle blew to settle a 2-1 win to Victory.