With just days before the clubs Australia Cup Round of 32 match takes place against a well known opponent, we sit down with head coach Ben Cahn to catch up on all things football.
You’ve brought an expansive attacking brand of football to Knights Stadium, setting a new club record for most goals scored in a single NPL Victoria season (47) in last weekend’s win over Hume City, how have you found implementing this brand of football with the team?
Everyone’s worked hard and shown a lot of courage to play the way we want to play. I was told you can’t play that way in Victoria, that the league is too physical and too transitional, but we’ve shown it can be done. In all honesty, we lost our way a little bit in June and July, due to the schedule but we bounced back well against Hume and played as well as we have all season.
In terms of the goals scored, I’m very proud of the record. It’s a great measure of the progress we’ve made but we could and really should have had more and the group are still really hungry to keep improving and we’re all working hard on different ways create chances and to make sure we’re firing going into this final period of the season.
We saw wholesale changes to the Knights playing squad over the course of the off season but the side gelled relatively quickly and hit the half way point of the season with a record points tally for the club and set a new club unbeaten streak in the league (8 matches) Were you surprised with how quickly things came together for the side.
Yes and no, the signs were there in pre-season. The signs were also there in our first three games even though we didn’t get a win but the results that followed were very positive and I think we surprised a lot of people that had already written us off.
Knights secured a return to finals football for the first time since 2015 with last weekend’s win over Hume. How much of a positive is it to have locked in finals football before playing in the Round of 32?
The race for the last couple of places in the top 6 is very tight and comes with a lot of pressure for all the teams involved and the whole club desperately wanted to play finals football so it’s a big relief to have that weight off our shoulders. We’ve been able to fully focus on the Australia Cup since Hume. Having said that, we’re very hungry to finish strong in the league, to give everything to secure fourth spot and to head into finals in good form and with high confidence.
We come up against Lions in the Round of 32 on Thursday night, what is your approach heading into that match?
A lot of teams start the season hoping to be in the Round of 32 so we know it’s a privilege to be playing at this stage in the competition. We’ll make sure we enjoy the occasion. I’m sure we’ll have a big crowd behind us and the minimum they’ll expect is that we give everything we’ve got. We’ll have a plan, but so will Lions and we’ll make sure we’re ready to adapt to whatever the game brings.
You’ve twice taken your old club Olympic FC to the national rounds of the Australia Cup, going as far as the Round of 16 in 2019 what do you take from those experiences heading into Thursday’s match?
The games have a different excitement about them. Knockout football in general is exciting but the opportunity to play against teams from around the country adds to the occasion.
There’s been a minimum of 5 goals, with ebbs and flows in momentum in each of the national round games I’ve been involved in, so focusing on the process and maintaining belief throughout the game, regardless of the score board will be very important.
Knights deep runs in both the Australia Cup and Dockerty Cup have presented a challenge few others in the league are facing with the side coming through a gruelling schedule that’s seen them play up to five more games than the sides around them over the past two months. How has the side adapted to that challenge?
It’s been a huge task and what this group of players and staff have achieved cannot be underestimated. We’ve got a thin squad compared to some of the teams around us, but our physios Andrew Shaw and Kat Camobreco have worked wonders to keep everyone as fit and fresh as possible.
Our league form took a hit, our line-up changed week to week, and we certainly lacked energy and spark in some important games.
Oakleigh and Heidelberg are the only other sides that have had the same sort of schedule as us. There’s no question that it’s put us at a disadvantage in the league, but I think it’s important for a club like Melbourne Knights to be competing deep into every competition possible.
A coach from a top three club made a very generous comment about us this week, stating he knows we’d have been up there with South and Avondale if it wasn’t for the impact of the cup. Hopefully we can show that when it comes around to finals time.
With finals football and the national rounds of the Australia Cup both laying ahead what’s the outlook for the remainder of the season?
We’ve had a good opportunity to freshen up. We’re coming off the back of a very strong performance against Hume and we’re excited and ready to try to go as far as we can in both competitions. There’s a lot of belief in the group, there’s a lot of good players competing for places in the team, and everyone is very hungry to keep growing and keep improving at this crucial stage of the season.
We’ve seen Luka Kolic go to another level and become a key player for the side this season, scoring eight goals. How far do you think he can go?
Luka has been fantastic. His growth has been immense. It’s tough for any young player to find a pathway into professional football in Australia and beyond but Luka has the attributes to do it. He’s physically very capable and will only get better in that regard, he’s becoming more and more intelligent each week and developing a strong understanding of the game, he’s improving technically and is very aware of where he needs to focus his growth and improvement.
But mostly he’s a terrific, level-headed young man with a hunger to seek feedback and keep improving. He’s a great trainer and he’s starting to really effect games now, so It’ll be exciting to see where his journey takes him.
Tickets are now on sale for Thursdays match. For more information, visit www.melbourneknights.com.au/product-category/tickets/