'King' Kenny in line for Victory debut on Cup Eve

Keeping things tight at the back makes a team hard to beat. But to actually win anything, you need to score goals and have strikers capable of netting on a regular basis.

And that is Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat's biggest headache as his side searches for its first win of the season against Western Sydney Wanderers at Etihad Stadium on Monday night, the now traditional Victory Cup Eve fixture.

But one man's problem is another man's opportunity, and as Muscat searches for the right blend in front of goal he might turn to cult hero "King" Kenny Athiu to solve his problems - if not from the start of the game, then off the bench.

With main forward Besart Berisha is still unavailable through suspension, attacking midfielder James Troisi away with the Socceroos and Kosta Barbarouses in World Cup qualifying action with New Zealand, Muscat is running out of options.

Athiu built his reputation in the National Premier League over the past few seasons as a regular goalscorer with Heidelberg United, his height, close control and mobility convincing Muscat (and a few other coaches) that he might be able to make the transition to A-League level.

The African-born forward had a heavy workload with his former club, so Muscat has given him a break to freshen up.

Athiu has been training with Victory for several weeks now, and while Muscat says he still has to make the adjustment to the pace of the game at the higher level, he is a chance to be involved at some stage of the game against Western Sydney Wanderers.

Another fringe striker likely to come into consideration, at least for part of the game, is youngster Pierce Waring, a proven scorer at youth and junior level who has not yet had a chance in the first team.

Muscat acknowledged that he would have liked to have had Athiu training with the first team for longer to build on his sharpness and hone his technique in an environment where the game is much quicker. But Muscat accepts that he has to use the cards now available to him.

"We've got a few options, Kenny comes into the squad. We would have liked to have left him another week, but circumstances have fast-tracked that.

"He's now been here for three or four weeks, he's starting to understand what's required of him so we'll wait and see to make the final decision.

"He's had a long (NPL) season so he needs some rest and recovery, then you're going to have to pick his fitness up.

"Is he anywhere near where he needs to be? No, without doubt, but the circumstances fast-forwarded that and he'll be involved tomorrow night."

If Athiu does become a regular at Victory it will be a feather in his cap and that of his club, Heidelberg, and the NPL Victoria as a whole

There are several coaches in the second tier who believe that there are numerous players such as Athiu, who, given the chance to play as full time professionals, would be able to make the grade in the A-League

Muscat has already raided the second tier competition once, signing Jai Ingham from Hume City after he impressed against Victory in the FFA Cup in 2015.

"I just liked giving opportunities (to players)," the Victory boss said.

"At the level he played, you could see there was enough that he deserved an opportunity.

"Previously we've done it with Jai and he's turned things for himself in a positive way and Kenny has got that opportunity now.

"He's certainly different to what we've got in the squad and he's relishing the opportunites, The way he's come in, in an environment that's very different to what he is used to.

"The thing is when these players come into these environments, the first thing you notice and should be noticeable, no disrespect to players coming from the NPL, things are done so much quicker to what they're used to (and they have to get up to speed)."

In those situations a player's technique is put under much more scrutiny, but Athiu's height and nose for goal should ensure he gives Western Sydney something to think about when he gets on to the pitch.

It is likely that Muscat will look to the experienced Dutchman Leroy George to play a key role up front from the start. While better known as a wide player, George has the technical ability and smarts to play a central role, with Ingham and Mitch Austin on the flanks.

Victory do get a major boost from the unexpected presence of Socceroos skipper Mark Milligan.

Milligan is suspended from the first leg of the World Cup qualifier against Honduaras and the FFA has ruled that he can play against Wanderers.

This story 'King' Kenny in line for Victory debut on Cup Eve first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.