Victory’s Kiwi winger timing his ACL run perfectly

Kosta Barbarouses hasn’t always been a fan favourite at Melbourne Victory but the Kiwi winger seems to be timing his run to perfection for the 2016 AFC Champions League.

The New Zealand international has been a key protagonist in his team’s resurgence over the past three weeks, including his penultimate pass before Matt Jurman’s own goal, which gave Victory a 1-0 win over Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

While Victory’s marquee striker Besart Berisha remains a lock for one of Kevin Muscat’s three foreign spots for the 2016 ACL, Barbarouses’ form this season – and in particular in 2016 – indicates the winger could be the next most essential import for the A-League champions.

Victory were floundering at half-time against the Mariners on January 8 with one win in the space of six matches and staring down a 3-0 deficit in Geelong.

But with Barbarouses in inspired form on the right flank, Muscat’s men surged back to claim a 3-3 draw – seemingly a vital result in the title-holders’ campaign.

Victory players celebrate Kosta Barbarouses' goal in the 68th minute.

Barbarouses gave Central Coast left-back Josh Rose a torrid time in the second half at Simonds Stadium, while it was his deft header back across goal that allowed Berisha to score the equaliser.

Last week against Brisbane Roar, Barbarouses was at it again.

The former Roar forward scored Victory’s second and third goals in a 4-0 triumph, while against Sydney, Barbarouses was involved in a sharp one-two with Jesse Makarounas before the latter’s cross was deflected into the net by Jurman.

Victory’s late goal wins tense Big Blue

Barbarouses has been much more incisive in 2015-16 than in his previous two campaigns with Victory, with the Wellington-born attacker having significantly improved his decision making in the final third.

Kosta Barbarouses celebrates his goal in the Grand Final.

Muscat declared on Monday that he has yet to decide which of his five foreign players – Berisha, Barbarouses, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Gui Finkler and Matthieu Delpierre – will go into three spots in his ACL squad.

At the start of the season, many Victory fans and pundits would have rated Barbarouses as the most expendable of that group.

Muscat wants to wait until the final deadline for ACL squads – a week before Victory’s first match – to decide on his three imports but at this rate it would be hard for him to ignore his speedy Kiwi.

Barbarouses has scored four goals in 17 A-League matches in 2015-16, while he has produced three assists.

The 25-year-old also won the Mark Viduka Medal as the best player in the FFA Cup Final when Victory defeated Perth Glory 2-0 in November.

Finkler and Ben Khalfallah have both notched three goals and three assists this term.

Barbarouses was everywhere against Sydney on Tuesday night, and it is clear Victory consider him their prime attacking outlet at the moment.

Victory players celebrate the winning goal in a gripping Big Blue.

His pace is almost unmatched in the A-League, while he sent more crosses into the box than any other player at Etihad Stadium.

With 11 minutes left, Makarounas collected the ball in midfield, fed Barbarouses on the wing and the latter surged infield before returning possession to his team-mate with a deft touch of the outside of his right boot.

Makarounas was clear in the box and his cross for Berisha ended up in the net off Jurman, extending Victory’s unbeaten run to five matches.

The defending champions rose to within three points of top spot in the A-League table, thanks in no small part to Barbarouses.

Muscat should reward him with a spot in Victory’s ACL squad.