Victory v Adelaide

A-League report by Alan Clark
Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United

Melbourne Victory had to overhaul a two-goal deficit to draw two-all against Adelaide United at Docklands Stadium on Saturday evening. The draw keeps Victory's Finals hopes still alive, if still in the intensive care unit, and means Adelaide is still to feel its Finals spot is secure.

Paul Agostino got a tap-in opener for Adelaide just after the quarter-hour. After weathering a storming Victory end to the first half, Agostino stretched the lead with another close-range effort minutes into the second.

Kevin Muscat reduced the deficit when he converted a penalty midway through the second half after Archie Thompson had been needlessly felled. The self-inflicted wounds continued when Ritchie Alagich headed a Carlos Hernandez free-kick into his own net one minute into added time.

"We got off to a good start," said two-goal scorer Agostino, "With a two-nil lead, you really should take that home."

"It feels like a loss in the rooms," said disappointed Adelaide coach Aurelio Vidmar after the game. Vidmar calculates his side needs a further five points to play in the Finals, and will certainly rue the two dropped in this game.

"The result wasn't what we were after, so our job (to qualify for the Finals) becomes tougher," said Victory coach Ernie Merrick. "I guess people thought we were dead at two-nothing (down). We came back well to get the draw."

"We've always promised to play attacking football, and that's what we did. We're ready for another go next week," he said.

Adelaide played the last ten minutes of the game a man short. Nathan Burns had to depart with a pulled hamstring and United had already used its three substitutes.

From the opening moments of the game the Victory formation pressed resources into the forward line as a win was a must. When in possession, Melbourne took on an adventurous 3-3-4 formation. This was high risk as when the ball was turned over there were gaps for Adelaide to exploit. Just seventeen minutes in, Adelaide took advantage of exactly that scenario.

Cassio broke up a Hernandez pass and quickly exchanged passes with Lucas Pantelis who was sent free up the left. Pantelis found acres of space to run into, drawing out Sebastian Ryall from the centre in a vain to cover.

Pantelis crossed to the far post. Dez Giraldi was being shadowed by Matthew Kemp, but Giraldi's advantage was that he was facing the right direction, and Kemp only danger. Kemp stretched and just reached the ball before Giraldi looping it gently over Michael Theoklitos where it struck the post. With Theoklitos now prone, Agostino, standing alone one metre out, had the simplest of tasks to tap the ball over the line.

The shouts of the home fans were that Agostino was offside, but replays showed he was level with Kevin Muscat and so onside, even if it were Giraldi rather than Kemp who got the vital touch.

But the gamble to devote resources to the front had to be continued such was the penalty for failure. Victory maintained the high pressure and extravagant formation despite the setback. In a ten-minute spell before half-time it created a hatful of good opportunities, any one of which would have turned the game on its head.

Kemp was first when he put a scrambled clearance from a corner narrowly wide of the left post. Then a shimmying run from Thompson after a series of Victory one-touch passes ended in a shot which Galekovic was grateful to block, and Alagich hammered clear. Adrian Caceres was next up barely seconds later in the enxt attack with a left-foot shot marginally over the bar. There was good lead-up work from Thompson out wide on the right when he wriggled clear of two challenges.

With the 22,000 attendance now on their feet, Daniel Vasilevski let loose a first-time shot from distance after a cross from Kemp which Galekovic was happy to hold.

Hernandez will surely rue selecting the short studs, rather than long ones, as he failed only by millimetres to connect a cross whipped in low by livewire Kaz Patafta. And Thompson put a header wide of the near post in first-half added time from a driven Vasilevski cross.

Just to remind Melbourne of the significant risk of its all-out commitment to attack, Agostino brought out a high-quality reaction save by Theoklitos at the other end seconds before the half-time whistle sounded. Alagich had broken up a Victory attack and sent a long diagonal ball to Pantelis on the left. Pantelis crossed to Giraldi who was able to knock the ball towards Agostino, now directly in front and twelve yards out.

Despite the one-way traffic at the end of the first-half, which theatened to blow Adelaide away, Adelaide was able to stretch its lead four minutes after the re-start. Victory failed to deal with a free-kick conceded wide on the left. Half-time entrant Jonas Salley got a head to knock it into Robert Cornthwaite's path. Cornthwaite stretched and looped a shot over Theoklitos which struck the bar on its way down, rebounding to Agostino. Agostino nodded in from two metres to knock the stuffing out of the home fans, and the fight out of Victory.

From then, Adelaide seemed content to coast, presumably reserving energy and effort for games to come.

Not until Thompson earnt Victory a penalty midway through the half, when felled by Tomislav Milardovic, did it seem possible that Victory would work its way back into the contest. But when Muscat duly converted, blasting the ball high left, it brought some hope of a Victory revival.

With renewed vigour, Victory again upped the intensity. Thompson, who started the game with a shot in the game's first minute, turning sharply before shooting just centimetres over the bar, reprised the movement in the game's last minute. Sadly for him and the bulk of those in attendance, the outcome was also repeated.

But when Bruce Djite brought down fellow substitute Joseph Keenan in added time it resulted in a free-kick to the left of goal about 25 metres out which Hernandez took. As he fizzed his kick into a gap he saw at the near post, Alagich got his head to it in an attempt to divert it wide of the post, only succeeding in diverting it wide of Galekovic and into his own net for Victory's unlikely equaliser.

The long-awaited return to Docklands of Kristian Sarkies was stymied when he was omitted from the travelling squad by Vidmar, apparently on disciplinary grounds.

Vidmar was unforthcoming about the reasons for Sarkies' omission, only to indicate Sarkies "went missing" during a game's hard times and needed to knuckle down in adversity. Vidmar derided media attempts to refer to Sarkies as a free-kick specialist. "(Sarkies) hasn't scored a single goal from a free-kick," he said.