Under-pressure Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat believes he has seen signs of recovery in his side’s battling 3-3 draw with Ulsan Hyundai on Tuesday night.
And one of them might be lanky ex-NPL striker Kenny Athiu.
Victory conceded the lead three times to the South Korean visitors in their AFC Champions League campaign opener.
Each time, they were level within three minutes as Leroy George, twice, and Rhys Williams found the net.
It may not be the three points they might need to progress from the intimidating group alongside Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale and China’s Shanghai SIPG, but after three straight A-League losses Muscat was prepared to take the effort as improvement.
“For us to be pegged back three leads, to [come back] was an outstanding effort from the group,” he said.
“The second goal from Leroy, the build-up was phenomenal.
“I look at this performance tonight and I see everyone fighting for this football club and I dare say that’s what people want to see.
“A group of players, even the boys that came on, fought for this football club. Fought for each other. Fought for me.”
For the second straight match, Athiu replaced A-League Besart Berisha to lead the line for Victory.
The 24-year-old played for Heidelberg United last year but now finds himself playing among Asia’s elite.
His performance left plenty to be desired — with heavy touches and a lack of composure in the box inviting comparisons to a giraffe or an octopus — but Muscat said he did very well.
“He worked ever so hard and posed different questions, different problems for the opposition,” he said.
“He should be very pleased with his contribution.”
Athiu described turning out in the ACL as “a massive deal” but was rueing his inability to score.
“I was hoping to score a winning goal but it didn’t come … I had more than enough chances,” he said.
“I’ll have trouble sleeping tonight that I didn’t put them away.”
Victory now head for Shanghai on Saturday ahead of a Tuesday night date against the Chinese Super League club, who defeated Kawasaki 1-0 in their opener.
Muscat will need a point in China to stay on pace in the group but refused to write off their prospects of qualifying.
“It’s early,” he said.
“Who knows what’s going to happen down the track. We showed a great appetite for this competition in our performance.”