Not pretty, but Victory get Champions League points
MELBOURNE Victory have started their Asian Champions League campaign with a 1-0 win over Chiangrai United at AAMI Park.
Victory snatched the lead via an Ola Toivonen penalty in the 25th minute but largely delivered an uninspiring performance against the Thai outfit in front of 4,156 fans.
Carlos Salvachua handed recruit Giancarlo Gallifuoco his first start, though Marco Rojas started on the bench.
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Victory looked lethargic and sloppy at times in the first half, with Chiangrai's pressure creating several good opportunities - though none seriously challenged goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas.
Victory almost snatched the lead when Toivonen forced a superb diving save from Chiangrai keeper Apirak Worawong in the 22nd minute.
A minute later, Swede Toivonen was brought down by defender Tanasak Srisai, with referee Turki Mohammed Alkhudhayr immediately pointing to the spot. Worawong dived the right way but couldn't stop Toivonen's powerful spot-kick into the bottom corner.
Socceroo Andrew Nabbout missed a chance to make it 2-0 in the 31st minute. Elvis Kamsoba went on a terrific run down the right, then cut the ball back for Nabbout, who blasted his shot high and wide.
Nabbout wasted a golden opportunity in the 58th minute when he clattered a header from the top of the six-yard box into the crossbar.
Defender Storm Roux was taken off on a stretcher in the 61st minute, while a visibly frustrated Nabbout made way for Rojas in the 72nd.
Rojas created the best chance of the second half when he weaved past two defenders and slipped a clever ball beyond a third to Kamsoba - only for the winger to blaze it over the bar.
Chiangrai's Thirayu Banhan received a straight red card for a nasty challenge on Victory's Jay Barnett in the 89th minute.
Rojas and Toivonen combined late but the latter saw his last-ditch attempt saved, leaving the hosts to settle for a frustrating 1-0 win.
Meanwhile, A-League newcomers Western United have signed Japanese defender Tomoki Imai until the end of the season.
The right-sided defender previously played for Japanese clubs Matsumoto Yamaga, Kashiwa Reysol and Omiya Ardija, with stints across both the J1 League and J2 League.
"Tomoki has fitted in well to how we want to play and our values as a group," United coach Mark Rudan said.
"We look forward to seeing his contribution during the remainder of the season." Imai, 29, will bolster United's defensive stocks, which have been hit by injuries and departures.
Brendan Hamill (knee) and Aaron Calver (foot) are injured, while Connor Chapman and Ersan Gulum both departed.
"I'm very happy to have joined this ambitious club," Imai told the club's website.
"I would like to thank head coach Mark Rudan for giving me the chance to start my career in Australia.
"I'm here to work very hard and help the club."
The A-League newcomers also signed former NPL defenders Oskar Dillon and Tomi Uskok in January.
MELBOURNE VICTORY 1 (Ola Toivonen 25 pen) CHIANGRAI UNITED 0 at AAMI Park. Referee: Turki Al-Khudair