Friday night football saw Melbourne Victory host the Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park in hot, humid conditions with the home side looking to extend its unbeaten streak to eight games and give their captain Carl Valeri a win for his 100th game. Or would the Nix under Mark Rudan continue their good form, spoiling the party and take the three points with them to New Zealand.
The Nix were up and running early in the 3rd when Roy Krishna pounced on a ball in behind the Victory, but the angle was too tight and he sent it over the cross bar. The home side had a corner in the 4th but it sailed past everyone in the 6-yard box however, Kosta Barbarouses managed to get past Andrew Durante who recovered and got a crucial block in. Another corner for Victory, but Kurto managed to punch away Leigh Broxham’s cross.
You could already sense this would be a tightly contested match and it would be a case of who could score first and how many goals would be needed to secure a win.
The 12th minute saw Nick Ansell subbed off with an injury (another centre back added to the list for the Victory) and youngster Josh Hope given the opportunity to play out most of the game. The Nix earned themselves a free kick in the 13th Singh dribbled past the Victory defence passing it to Krishna but he couldn’t find the back of the net.
Terry Antonis found some space to have a shot 20-yards out in the 20th minute but it was just narrow and I personally was hoping for a goal quick smart as the visitors were gaining momentum with each passing minute. Sure enough, another warning for the Victory when Mandi stepped up to take the free kick in the 27th but luckily for Melbourne and very unlucky for Wellington it was only inches wide of the post.
The 39th saw Kurto make another save from a Josh Hope strike heading straight towards the Phoenix’s shot stopper, but a minute later the big Swede Ola Toivonen sets of running behind the Nix defence but the linesman calls him offside. The Nix had one more solid opportunity in the 44th when Williams played in Singh but Lawrence Thomas managed a good save to deny the visitors.
After two minutes of added time, there wasn’t too much excitement and both sides went into the change rooms goalless.
The second half saw Troisi try and score from outside the box in the 50th but he sent it over the cross bar (I was silently praying “please don’t end up playing like last season” – remembering that it seemed no matter how many times he hit the ball, Troisi couldn’t find the back of the net). Kosta Barbarouses the former Nix man (who I am extremely happy to have back in a Melbourne shirt) earned himself a free kick after a blistering run down the right side in the 53rd, but Kurto came to the rescue again punching the ball away.
The Nix’s defence was holding up well and you could sense that Victory were either getting extremely frustrated, underestimated the Phoenix, were missing the likes of Keisuke Honda and Georg Niedermeier or a combination of all three.
The 60th saw a great ball from Doyle to Krishna but the cross is saved by Thomas and I had an eerie feeling that the Nix weren’t going home without a goal. Sure enough two minutes later, David Williams hit in a blistering ball past Lawrence Thomas to give the visitors the lead.
1-0 Phoenix! As you would expect the Victory faithful weren’t happy, especially when it was a former Melbourne City man who just scored against them Williams having spent five seasons with their cross-town rivals. So much so, I heard a few shouting ‘Go home you Melbourne City reject’ slightly amusing perhaps, but also irrelevant now that the visitors had the lead.
Victory weren’t going to go down without a fight and that is what has made them a side that has challenged for silverware and played finals football so often. A great chance went begging when Toivonen played the ball to Antonis but his volley went over the cross bar in the 67th.
Chance after chance, shot after shot seemed to be the theme for the next few minutes, with the Victory throwing everything they had at the Nix to try and equalise. Their efforts were awarded in the 77th when Ola Toivonen steered in a strike from Terry Antonis!
It wasn’t over yet with 18-year old Cacace sent his shot straight to Lawrence Thomas in the 78th, you could tell both sides were wanting to win it.
Melbourne Victory earned themselves a free kick in the 80th but Ola Toivonen couldn’t keep the ball down and it went flying past the cross-bar, not troubling Kurto.
A minute later, Barbarouses tried to find the winner but Kurto was there in the nick of time to send it out for a corner but nothing eventuated.
Both the home fans and the visiting Yellow Fever contingent whom to their credit had packed out the away bay were urging their side to try find that match winner. But following back to back shots on goal in the 89th and 90th minute for Victory, there was a feeling that there just wasn’t enough time on the clock to make something happen.
Four minutes of stoppage time was signalled by the fourth official and following pressure from both teams, neither could find that elusive second goal.
The Phoenix were headed home with a point, whom in my opinion looked the better side for most of that game. Victory looked a little disjointed and sluggish for periods, missing crucial passes and of course missing key players I’d say they should be relieved to have salvaged a point.
With the rest of the league to play, for now Victory were top of the ladder on goal difference and the Nix were sitting in a pretty fourth. Hopefully both sides enjoy their few days off before heading into a busy 2019.
By Jakie Manevski