Muscat takes care of business
Kevin Muscat admits his Grand Final shootout penalty miss against Sydney never entered his mind as he stepped up to convert the spot kick which has revived Melbourne's hopes of progressing to the next stage of the AFC Champions League.
Inspirational Melbourne skipper Kevin Muscat admits that his penalty miss in the Grand Final shootout against Sydney hurt him, but that it never entered his mind as he stepped up to convert the spot kick which has revived Melbourne's hopes of progressing to the next stage of the AFC Champions League.
Muscat was called upon on the hour mark on Wednesday's match against Kawasaki Frontale after Robbie Kruse was brought down in the box.
As he approached the spot, everyone held their breath after his stunning miss in the Grand Final 10 days prior.
But the experienced defender said he didn't gave his previous miss a second thought as he focused on giving Melbourne a foothold on the game.
"I didn't think, 'I hope we get one (penalty kick) tonight', but when it was awarded, it was just a normal reaction," he said.
"I could see Carlos (Hernandez), Carlos never looks at me when a penalty is awarded and tonight I could see a little puzzled look on his face trying to say, 'do you want me to take it?'"
"It wasn't me trying to put a wrong right from 10 days ago. It was just a matter of business as usual and fortunately it went in."
Muscat's business-as-usual approach, plus a favourable result in the other match, means Victory has a fighting chance of progressing.
It must win its final two matches against Beijing at home and Seongnam away to get through.
Coach Ernie Merrick revealed post-match that Muscat had played a major role in turning the players' mindset around after that defeat in the Grand Final and the 4-0 drubbing against Kawasaki in Japan.
"You know he wears his heart on his sleeve. He takes a defeat very badly. He's an absolute winner. He drives everyone on. His pre-match speech before we went out was first class," he said.
"The boys keep stepping up when he asks them to. He was pretty keen to take that penalty and score and it was a faultless penalty, a first-class penalty, again under pressure. I think it was good for Kevin."
Muscat said the gritty 1-0 win, achieved despite an avalanche of chances from the visiting side, was a testament to the strong character of the playing group.
"We looked each other in the eye before the game, we asked about character. We certainly knew that the type of characters we have in the change room, it was a matter of re-instilling that."
"I thought the effort and work rate of the whole squad was tremendous. Sometimes when you put in that much work you get to ride your luck and we certainly did that."
He admits that the Grand Final defeat still hangs over the players, but that the team's commitment to the ACL campaign required players to put that out of their minds in Wednesday night's match.
"I don't think you can say we are over it well and truly, it's still fresh in the memory. Not a day goes by when you don't see a highlight or a clip on the news," he said.
"It's not totally gone, but at the same time, we are still in a competition and if it's still haunting you, put it away for 90 minutes because you are doing an injustice, not only to yourself, but your team-mates, fans, coaching staff."
"If you still want to dwell on it, and still be haunted by it, so be it, during the 90 minutes we all put it behind us."
Meanwhile, Merrick is confident that Melbourne can get the six points required from its final two matches against a Beijing side which has lost momentum and a Seongnam side which has already qualified.
"The next three, we've got two at home. The next one's against Beijing at home. If we win that, we 'll put a lot of pressure on whoever for second place. That's all we can do. We've always believed that there's a second spot for us," the coach said.