Melbourne Victory scored an emphatic win over bitter rivals Adelaide United in front of a full house at Hindmarsh Stadium on Friday night. The result brought an end to Victory's Hindmarsh Stadium goal-less hoodoo and increased the pressure on Adelaide United's place in the top four.
Adelaide went into the game with the biggest name to grace the A-League - Brazilian World Cup winner Romario - playing up front. Big things were hoped from the Brazilian after his below par first appearance at Central Coast last week. Adelaide also welcomed back from injury the hottest young property in Australian football - 18 year old Nathan Burns.
Melbourne's pivotal captain Kevin Muscat passed a late fitness test to take his place in the starting eleven. Importantly approximately 200 Victory fans made the trek to go some of the way to countering the intimidating atmosphere at Hindmarsh Stadium.
There was a lot at stake for both clubs in this derby clash. Adelaide needed all three points to strengthen its position in the top four. Melbourne needed to beat Adelaide to banish its hoodoo - it has recorded only one win in its seven previous clashes with Adelaide and has not scored a single goal at Hindmarsh Stadium. There was even more at stake for the respective fans - bragging rights for the next 2 months - the earliest these two clubs will meet again will be the final series at the end of January.
Adelaide kicked off the game to the roar of 15694 fans - the first sell out at Hindmarsh Stadium since the start of the A-League. The honours were pretty even until an act of the highest stupidity by Adelaide goalkeeper Robbie Bajic in the 13th minute.
Adelaide defender Alagich headed the ball back to his goalkeeper. Melbourne's Fred chased the header but Bajic grabbed the ball first. But as Fred went past, Bajic struck out with his right leg catching Fred in the thigh. It was a despicable action by Bajic and absolutely needless. Referee Mark Shield had no option but to show Bajic the red card and award a penalty to Melbourne.
Adelaide was forced to sacrifice a player to bring on former No1 and out of favour substitute goalkeeper Daniel Beltrame for his first start of the season. Socceroo Travis Dodd was the unfortunate player to make a way - a decision Kosmina would probably regret with the benefit of hindsight.
To add to the drama it was the most unpopular of players in eyes of the Adelaide fans who stepped up to take the penalty - Kevin Muscat. He made no mistake from the penalty spot hitting an almost perfect penalty and then proceeded to taunt the Adelaide fans behind the goals with his celebration.
Any pre-match game plan went out the window with Adelaide down to 10 men so early. It seemed Bajic had destroyed Adelaide's chances of taking any points out of the game until referee Mark Shield decided to even things up a little in the 20th minute.
Melbourne's Brebner and Adelaide's Aloisi went in for a 50-50 ball after a poor pass by Valkanis - both players slid in showing their studs but Aloisi got the touch on the ball and Brebner collected Aloisi. The price for losing the 50-50 challenge was a straight red card for Brebner - harsh but not totally unjustified.
With the numbers on the park levelled, Adelaide and Melbourne slugged it out in the middle of the park with goal scoring opportunities non-existent.
In the 42nd minute Romario took a short free kick to Nathan Burns who knocked the ball wide to Matthew Kemp. With Kevin Muscat caught ball watching, Kemp skinned Adrian Caceres and pushed inside the box unchallenged. Kemp hit a perfect cross to the back post. Adelaide's Fernando rose unchallenged and hit a powerful header into the back of the net from only 2 metres out. Hindmarsh Stadium erupted - the scores were now level at 1-1.
The sores remained unchanged at half time - one goal and one red card each. But while both teams were numerically equal at ten a side - in reality Adelaide were down to 9 men with Romario only a shadow of his former self.
Melbourne Victory came out in the second half and turned the screws on Adelaide United in the opening five minutes. Adelaide slowly fought its way back into the game and Romario should have opened his goal account in the 55th minute. Matthew Kemp worked a one-two with Romario on the edge of the box - putting Romario through with only the goalkeeper to beat. But Melbourne's goalkeeper Theoklitos was equal to the task denying Romario with a close range save.
At the other end of the park Danny Allsopp showed a precursor of what was to come when Fred put him through and he outpaced the Adelaide defence. With the goals beckoning Allsopp struck the ball high and wide from just inside the box.
With 59 minutes on the clock Kosmina substituted Nathan Burns for Greg Owens - a surprising move and another one Kosmina would come to regret. It was to signal the beginning of the end of Adelaide's challenge for the points.
Only one minute later Melbourne grabbed the lead after a series of fundamental errors by Adelaide. Melbourne worked the ball in the middle of the park dragging Adelaide's centre half Angelo Costanzo out of position to challenge for the ball. A tiring Ross Aloisi was caught ball watching as Archie Thompson ran past him giving Valkanis two strikers to mark. Muscat picked out Danny Allsopp as Valkanis attempted to play the offside trap. Midfielder Owens was caught three metres deeper on the flank playing Danny Allsopp onside. Allsopp was one on one with Beltrame and smashed the ball low, hard and in-off-the-post. 2-1 to Melbourne.
Another minute later Archie Thompson found himself in space inside the Adelaide box. With the goals beckoning Thompson smashed the ball goal wards only to be denied by the fingertips of Beltrame. Thompson should have done better from that range. It was a lucky escape for an Adelaide defence that was starting to struggle with the pace and strength of Allsopp and Thompson.
In took until the 69th minute for Romario to show some of the flair that once made him World Player of the Year. The diminutive Brasilian took a short corner doing another one-two with Matthew Kemp once again - possibly the only Adelaide United player on his wave-length. Romario strode past two defenders before striking the ball from an acute angle only to be denied again by Theoklitos.
Adelaide's Angelo Costanzo was guilty of overplaying the ball at the back and lost it to Allsopp. The Melbourne striker drove towards goal before striking a powerful shot from just inside the box. Adelaide's Beltrame could only watch as the ball cannoned off the underside of the bar. Archie Thompson got onto the rebound but opted to control the ball giving Aloisi the chance to clear the ball to safety.
The chances were starting to come with regularity for Melbourne Victory with Adrian Caceres squandering another half chance when he smashed his shot over the bar.
The final nail in the Adelaide coffin was hammered in the 85th minute. Adelaide defender Richie Alagich attempted to play a ball forward only to find the head of Allsopp. The ball ended up back with Alagich who made his second attempt to hit a long ball. Allsopp intercepted again stealing the ball for Melbourne. After a short pass in midfield, Allsopp picked out midfielder Fred who had streamed past a tired Carl Veart. Fred outpaced the rest of the Adelaide defence to be one on one with the goalkeeper. Beltrame saved Fred's first effort but could only parry it back into the path of the Brasilian who made no mistake with his second effort - 3-1 to Melbourne and it was game over for Adelaide.
Adelaide had a little flurry in the closing minutes but it was all to no avail as Melbourne ran out deserving victors.
Adelaide coach John Kosmina will be very disappointed with the result and goalkeeper Bajic. It places Adelaide's position in the top four under increasing pressure with a tough run of fixtures to the end of the season. However Kosmina did little to help the situation with some poor substitutions.
Of major concern to Kosmina must be the impact of marquee flop Romario. His work rate is non-existent effectively leaving Adelaide a player down. Romario must score goals to justify his lack of any other contribution and unfortunately, on his first two performances, it seems Romario would struggle to hit the side of a barn with a football. Throw in the ageing legs of Aloisi and Veart in the centre of midfield, Fernando struggling with his fitness and a slow central defensive pairing and you have a serious problem. This was further exposed with the substitutions of the pacey and energetic duo of Dodd and Burns.
Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick will be very satisfied with the convincing victory away from home. His side outplayed, outsmarted and outlasted Adelaide United with captain Kevin Muscat leading the way. His next major challenge is Sydney next weekend.
Adelaide had few solid contributors. Matthew Kemp was the pick of the defenders. Burns toiled hard in the midfield but found the going very tough. Fernando started strongly but faded in the second half.
For Melbourne there was none better than Kevin Muscat. He rose to the occasion and led his team to Victory. Allsopp proved a handful up front. Fred had a strong second half while the un-assuming Byrnes had a good game at the back. Also amongst the best players were the 200 Melbourne Victory fans that made the trip to Adelaide. They sung their hearts out doing much to combat the 15 thousand plus Adelaide fans.