Kevin Muscat’s era in charge of Melbourne Victory came to an end last season, as the club followed their 2017/18 title win with a third-place finish in the Hyundai A-League.
But with international recruits Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen starring, the four-time Champions still had their share of high-points.
Let’s look back at six of them now.
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Off to a flying start
The Victory could hardly have made a bigger statement of intent. The reigning Hyundai A-League Champions headed into the 2018/19 campaign by announcing the signing of not just one, but two major overseas stars.
The capture of Sweden international Ola Toivonen from French Ligue 1 club Toulouse was impressive enough, but the move that really got the football world talking was the arrival in August of Japan's former AC Milan star Keisuke Honda.
They proved inspired signings. Between them, the pair ended up registering almost half of Victory's 50 league goals, with the Swede top scoring with 15 (including two in the Finals Series) and his Japanese counterpart chipping in with seven.
They may have ended trophy-less, but the football was at times sublime, and the lessons handed down by both players – as outlined below in a memorable post-match interview given by Honda following a 4-0 win over Western Sydney Wanderers in December – are likely to live long in the memory of their colleagues at the Melbourne club.
Impressive imports draw first blood
The first Big Blue of the season, at the Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Round 5 in November, was one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes between Victory and Sydney FC in recent memory.
It was the first meeting between the sides since Victory’s dramatic Finals Series Semi Final win in April 2018, and the temperature was taken up a notch by the presence of Honda and Toivonen on the Melbourne club's team sheet.
As it panned out, the match was all about the imports.
Swedish striker Toivonen notched his first strike of the season early on, and although Sydney FC's own overseas arrival Adam Le Fondre hit back, Honda’s second-half penalty helped Muscat’s men claim the early bragging rights in their rivals' own backyard.
Victory blow hot in first-half blitz
Cyclone Owen menaced around the Queensland capital for Victory’s trip to Brisbane Roar in Round 8 but the boys in Navy Blue provided a storm warning of their own in a memorable 4-2 win.
Kosta Barbarouses scored twice, while Toivonen and Honda also chimed in as an unstoppable Victory lashed four past Roar – who had Eric Bauthéac dismissed early on – in the opening 45 minutes.
The goals were beautifully worked, with James Troisi’s inch-perfect lofted pass for Barbarouses’ opener a standout.
Backs to the wall
Victory may have failed to seize a Melbourne Derby win in 2018/19, but their superb backs-to-the-wall performance in Round 20’s 1-1 draw with City was still a season highlight, regardless of their frustrations against the neighbours.
City – who had won Round 1’s meeting 2-1 and stolen a last-gasp 1-1 draw in December – were handed a great chance to earn the bragging rights when Victory defender Georg Niedermeier saw red for bringing down Jamie Maclaren in the area 15 minutes in.
The Caltex Socceroo duly dispatched the resultant penalty, but despite their numerical advantage City could not put their 10-man rivals away.
Kosta Barbarouses stepped up to finish a fine sweeping move early in the second half, and Muscat’s side held on to earn a merited point.
Victory shock Premiers-elect
In hindsight, Victory will look back at this Round 23 win over eventual Premiers Perth Glory with an element of frustration.
Perth were expected to all-but-seal the Premiers Plate against Muscat’s side, but Victory left the WA club stunned with a sparkling performance in front of a 17,856-strong crowd at HBF Park.
Toivonen and Honda were again key, with Toivonen netting the Hyundai A-League’s 5000th goal from a splendid free kick, before Honda doubled the advantage with a second-half penalty.
It was a performance that saw Victory realise their full potential and perhaps hinted at what might have been in the season that got away.
A fond farewell
After 14 years at the club, head coach Kevin Muscat parted company with Victory at the end of the 2018/19 campaign.
The 45-year-old former Wolverhampton Wanderers, Rangers, Millwall and Crystal Palace defender has won everything going in the Australian game as a player and coach and his name has become synonymous with the Melbourne club over that period.
It's safe to say it was an emotional farewell as Muscat announced his intention to take some time out of the game to recharge his batteries.
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