A-League: Victory set to land knockout derby blow on City

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Inflicting a crushing blow to Melbourne City’s hopes of playing finals football is an extra “gift” Melbourne Victory intends to deliver its fans in Saturday night’s derby.

Having topped the A-League ladder for the previous three seasons, City has suffered a fall from grace to be sitting in seventh spot and in significant danger of failing to finish in the top six.

And while third-placed Victory’s primary reason for wanting to win at AAMI Park is to further its own ambitions of a top-two finish, pleasing the club’s supporters by damaging City’s finals aspirations looms as an added derby incentive.

“The three points is the first gift and the most important one,” Victory coach Tony Popovic said.

“(But) after the game, if that (hurting City’s finals bid) is another gift that we can add to the three points … if that gives our fans some extra joy, if there’s a way we can do that, we certainly will do our utmost to achieve that, but three points (and) beating (our) rival is what’s on our minds.”

Depending on the result of Saturday’s top-of-the-table battle between the Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix in Gosford, the Victory could move to within two points of a top-two berth by beating City.

“We’re in a good position to finish the season very strong,” said Popovic, whose side is chasing back-to-back wins after beating Perth 2-1 last Sunday following the FIFA international window break.

“You’re a little bit unsure after 17 days without a game how you will fare, so we were very pleased that the performance (against Perth) was so strong.

“I believe we can still get better after getting that game under our belt.

“We’re in some good form, we believe that we can keep getting stronger, we have some great games to look forward to, but we have to still just look at one game at a time, and (Saturday’s) is the most important.”

The most recent meeting between Victory and City was a February 17 scoreless draw which included a melee stemming from a fiery incident between Jason Geria and Marin Jakolis.

“It’ll be like this (on Saturday) as well,” City winger Jakolis said.

“It’s part of the derby. From where I come from, Croatia, it’s normal behaviour. Emotions are high. I understand his side, I understand my side.

“Nobody got hurt in the end. It’s nice when we’re a little bit fired up.”

After the derby, the Victory will lose three players – Ryan Teague, Nishan Velupillay and Jordi Valadon – to Olyroos duty, with the trio potentially not returning until after the first week of next month’s finals series depending on how far Australia progresses at the AFC under-23 Asian Cup in Qatar.

“Will we miss them? Of course you miss good young talented players, but we’ve got to wish them well, and hopefully they come back fit, healthy and better players than they are before they leave,” Popovic said.

“We make these promises that we’ll do our utmost to improve them individually and try to make their personal goals come true, but they have to understand that the team dynamic is first, and that if we put the two together, special things can happen.”

City will also lose three Olyroos – Marco Tilio, Callum Talbot and Patrick Beach.

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