A last-gasp Gui Finkler free-kick has seen Victory snatch a point from Western Sydney in an enthralling 1-1 draw in front of an electric crowd at AAMI Park.
A last-gasp Gui Finkler free-kick has seen Melbourne Victory snatch a point from Western Sydney in an enthralling 1-1 draw in front of an electric crowd at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
In a game that will be overshadowed by clashes between rival supporters earlier in the day, substitute Brendon Santalab appeared to have given the visitors all three points with a well-taken goal in the 71st minute.
But Finkler had other ideas as he struck a brilliant injury-time free kick to ensure the Victory ended the match level with the reigning premiers.
A tightly-contested match begun brightly for the Victory with Connor Pain cutting in from the right and forcing Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic into his first save after just three minutes.
It was then the visitors’ turn to attack with Labinot Haliti scuffing a good chance before he saw a free header brilliantly saved by Nathan Coe that was created by a superb cross from Jerome Polenz.
Both teams appeared to be comfortable in possession in their respective final thirds with the Victory looking particularly dangerous through attacking duo Mitch Nichols and James Troisi.
However, it was fellow forwards Kostas Barbarouses and Pain that created the best chance of the first half on 19 minutes.
The Kiwi was able to skip past several challenges on the left wing before whipping in a brilliant ball which was missed by Covic only for Pain to fluff his shot on the stretch.
With the majority of the rowdy 22,133-strong crowd roaring them on, the home side began to turn the screws with Nichols heading a chance wide before Barbarouses missed another great opportunity from inside the area with Nichols again involved.
The Victory then endured a few nervy moments with the visitors having a penalty shout waved away after Haliti went down in the box on the half-hour mark before Tahj Minniecon curled an effort just wide minutes later.
Tony Popovic’s side then wasted a golden opportunity of their own. Minniecon breezed past Geria in the box before his cross caused a mad scramble which ended in Haliti scooping a shot over the bar as the two sides went into the break deadlocked.
The Victory burst out of the blocks in the second half with some exciting attacking play and could consider themselves unlucky not be given a penalty after a Mark Milligan shot was blocked by Topor-Stanley’s outstretched arm.
As the half wore on the home side continued to waste good opportunities on the counter and they paid the ultimate price in the 71st minute.
Finkler gave the ball away cheaply to Minniecon in the middle of the park before he slipped in Santalab who scored with his first touch, slotting the ball past Coe on his near post to send the away fans into a frenzy.
The Victory’s frustrations only grew from there with several more chances going begging, the best of which was a deflected Nichols effort which looped agonisingly wide of Covic’s far post.
With the hosts pressing for a winner they were left exposed on the counter and were lucky not to fall further behind with Yousef Hersi missing two good chances, including a one-on-one with Coe.
But the home side refused to give up and after Finkler was brought down on the edge of the box the Brazilian stepped up to gift Victory a point.
Melbourne Victory 1 (Finkler 93)
Western Sydney Wanderers (Santalab 75)
Crowd: 22,133 @ AAMI Park