Melbourne Victory deserved to lose, exit Champions League - Kevin Muscat
Melbourne Victory's leaders have fronted up after a four-goal spanking from Ulsan Hyundai sent them packing from the AFC Champions League.
There weren't many ways to spin Wednesday's 6-2 loss -- a record ACL defeat. Victory were second-best from the get-go, with Lawrence Thomas' clearance blunder the start of the rout.
It was never going to be easy.
Victory dealt with lengthy travel, fixture congestion, missing players and woeful conditions in South Korea.
The midseason sales of Mark Milligan and Jason Geria, while financially rewarding, meant Victory were always liable to be shown up for depth at some stage.
That came to pass on a rainy, cold night in South Korea.
"Ulsan were the better team. They turned up and they deserved to win," coach Kevin Muscat conceded.
"There were those factors. Not excuses. They are facts.
"But right from the outset you could see, conceding the first goal under limited pressure, the night just continued."
The slippery deck didn't suit fleet-footed attacking trio Leroy George, James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses.
Debutant Josh Hope couldn't leave his mark and stand-in centre-back Thomas Deng crashed down to Earth after his wonder-goal against Western Sydney on Saturday.
Captain Carl Valeri, perhaps Victory's most stoic battler, wouldn't give his players a chop-out.
"I don't like making excuses. They were better than us. They proved it," he said.
"At the end of the day we're out of the Asian Champions League and the mood is down."
Valeri said the long journey home together as a team would be an opportunity to mend bridges.
"We've still got a lot to look forward to," he said.
"We've done ever so well in the A-League. we've got an important game on the weekend against Wellington, then Sydney and finals coming up.
"We've got a good strong group and when times are tough we've always stuck together.
"We have to close this chapter and move on as quick as we can."
Shanghai SIPG's 1-1 draw with Kawasaki Frontale, also on Wednesday night, confirmed the Chinese Super League giants will top the group.
They will travel to Melbourne in a fortnight for a match of no consequence at AAMI Park, with Victory to finish third regardless.
The result is the third campaign in a row where the Victory have hit rocks in South Korea.
In 2016, they lost a round of 16 tie to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, and two years earlier a 1-1 draw against the same opponent saw them miss out on progressing.