How Antonis and Honda steadied the ship to ignite Victory’s title defence
It wasn’t pretty, but Melbourne Victory’s Championship defence has lift-off.
And if Kevin Muscat’s side are to retain their status as Hyundai A-League top dog this season, the blossoming partnership between Terry Antonis and Keisuke Honda looks to be crucial.
The midfield duo helped navigate Victory out of a potentially deadly storm in Saturday night’s narrow 1-0 win over Newcastle Jets.
Kevin Muscat’s side were unconvincingly ropey again for a large part of their Grand Final rematch in the Hunter Valley, but ultimately are indebted to Antonis and Honda for steering the ship – and title defence - back on course.
It was the second week in a row that Melbourne’s midfield pivot has combined for a moment of attacking inspiration, but this time the contribution would prove match winning, with Antonis striking another pincer-like hit to mirror Round 2’s effort against Perth Glory.
However, it was a dogged and resilient performance off the ball from the duo that proved most significant in dragging Victory to their first three points of the campaign.
Like the rest of their Melbourne teammates, the pair were midfield passengers in the face of Newcastle’s early barrage of pressure.
But for a pair renowned for their craft over midfield graft, the way Antonis and Honda rose to the challenge with an uncharacteristically bruising display should delight Muscat and the Navy Blue faithful.
No one attempted more tackles than Honda’s five on the evening, while Antonis finished equal-second with three. If there were any doubts over the Japanese star’s willingness to roll up his sleeves for the Victory cause, such worries were emphatically swept aside.
Moreover, another assist for Honda tonight means the 32-year-old has been involved in every goal Victory have scored this campaign. The Hyundai A-League’s biggest off-season arrival was expertly marshalled by the Jets for much of the encounter, but it is evident that Honda only needs to work off half spaces to turn a contest.
And on a night where 24-year-old Antonis racked up a century of Hyundai A-League appearances, the Japanese star clearly possesses a capable deputy at his side to spearhead Victory’s title claim.