Sanchez wins it at the death as Western steal an A-League classic

Melbourne Victory 3: Callum McManaman (‘23), Jacob Butterfield (‘62) Rudy Gestede (‘82)
Western United 4: Victor Sanchez (‘42 ‘90+5) Besart Berisha (‘53 ‘58) 

A 95th minute winner from Spanish import Victor Sanchez has broken the hearts of Melbourne Victory and given 10-man Western United a heart-stopping, 4-3 win in a supremely entertaining contest at Marvel Stadium on Saturday evening. 

Riding the momentum of their mid-week win over Wellington Phoenix, Victory took the lead in the 21st minute of play when Dalibor Markovic – who impressed in just his second A-League start – Robbie Kruse and Storm Roux combined magnificently to tee up Callum McManaman for an unsavable volleyed effort. They were then pegged back moments before halftime when Sanchez put Leigh Broxham and Storm Roux on ice skates with a dummied shot before firing home. 

His side having had the best of the contest despite conceding first, Besart Berisha’s header from an Alessandro Diamanti cross just eight minutes into the second stanza subsequently put Western in front; a margin which they doubled when the two combined in a very similar manner four minutes later. 

“At 3-1 up I thought: ‘We’re cruising here’,” Mark Rudan said post-game. “[His squad] did everything that we asked of them – at half time we spoke of a couple of things and they worked superbly.”

But Jacob Butterfield’s long-range thunderbolt in the 62nd minute served to drag Victory back into the contest, with their efforts bolstered two-minutes later when Western vice-captain Tomislav Uskok was sent off. They promptly took advantage when big Rudy Gestede, free of his immediate marker, blasted a headed effort past Kurto to make it 3-3.

“I felt it would take a world class strike from the opposition to get them back into the game and that’s exactly what got them back into the game,” said Rudan. “And then we went to press when we didn’t have to and we expose ourselves and Tomi is left one-on-one. And then we go down a player and concede a goal.”

There was still drama to come, however, and Sanchez’s open-net finish after a cross intended for Nicolas Milanovic squirted past he and goalkeeper Max Crocombe ended the contest on Green and Black terms. 

“It’s gutwrenching; we as coaches ride every wave,” Victory coach Grant Brebner said post-game. “It’s a rollarcoaster, that game tonight was a rollercoaster.”

Hearts broken, Victory’s focus will now shift to seven days time and a return to Marvel Stadium to take on old foes Melbourne City in the first Melbourne Derby of the season.

“It’s easy to sit here and tell you my emotions, but it’s not about me; I’m sure like many people – our members and fans – everyone connected with the club is going to be feeling that as a sore one, to lose it in the manner we did,” Brebner said. “It’s a hard one to take.”

Western, leaping from ninth to seventh with the three points earned, will now turn their attention to a meeting with Western Sydney Wanderers next Sunday in Ballarat. 

“I think I’ve watched a million games in my lifetime, and I’m not sure I’ve seen a game where you’re up 3-1 up, 3-2, has a player sent off, 3-3 and then go and win it in the last second of the game… it’s just incredible,” Western’s coach said. “We’re just happy and very humble at the same time, but we’re on the right side of the scoreline, much like that crazy game in Perth.

“I want to congratulate my players; the resiliance they showed, the character they showed was superb. Unbelievable mentality from our team, never say die, it was incredible.”

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A foul from Markovic on Dylan Pierias gifted Western the first proper sight on goal in the contest, with the subsequent free-kick from Diamanti to nestle neatly in the hands of Crocombe. 

Victory first clear chance arrived in the 13th minute, when Aaron Anderson picked out the perfectly timed run of Kruse with a dinked pass from the halfway line, only for the Socceroo’s control to give Aaron Calver just enough time to get back and block his shot. 

Nine minutes later, however, there would be no Western player on-hand to block McManaman’s well-struck effort that put the hosts ahead. 

Nonetheless, despite going down a goal to nil, it was Western that was consistently producing the better build-up play throughout the first half, only for their final pass or shot to let them down when it mattered the most. 

In two golden chances that arrived within seconds of each other in the 28th minute, Iker Guarrotxena had a header crash off the bottom of the crossbar and back into play after being picked out by Pierias, before Berisha had a diving header from a Sanchez cross somehow saved by Crocombe. 

Gestede, looking to back up his mid-week brace against Phoenix, rose to meet a Jacob Brimmer header two minutes past the half-hour mark, but it too crashed off the crossbar and back into play. 

Yet Western wouldn’t be denied and while the goal itself didn’t come as a result of the increasing midfield ascendency that had augured its arrival, Berisha’s pickpocketing of Brimmer to play in Sanchez to score gave them a deserved equaliser in the 42nd minute. 

A long-range effort from Pierias that induced Crocombe into padding it wide greeted Victory back to the field three minutes into the second half, with the subsequent exchange eventually leading to a half-volleyed Diamanti effort that flew just wide of the post. 

But five minutes after that Western would have their lead when, rising to meet a cross from Diamanti and contorting his body to ensure he could create the right angle, Berisha punished his former side with his fourth goal of the season. 

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That Italian and Kosovan combination, this time working on the left, was back at it again in the 57th minute as they made it 3-1; only for Jacob Butterfield to quickly drag it back to 3-2 with his long-range thunderbolt after being played in by Markovic in the 62nd minute. 

“I thought Diamanti was on a different level today,” Rudan said. “Besart Berisha, dusts himself off: people talk about other players… he went through a bit of a drought in the first few games. But you never write off champions. Berisha another double, Diamanti fantastic.”

Victory’s faint ember of hope then became a brushfire moments later when Western centreback Uskok, who at that point had been using his height to mark Gestede, was sent off for his second yellow card for bringing down Kruse as he burst down the left flank.

“We went 1-0 up and, to talk about the game rather than the result, we went 1-0 up and stopped playing,” Brebner said. “Our midfield was poor in the first half and we let Western get their tail up and start knocking the ball about and dictating play. Jake [Brimmer] and Jacob [Butterfield] had to be braver, they had to get into more difficult positons beyond lines and play and they did that, to be fair, in the second half, which helped us grow into the game and… yeah.” 

It was a harsh second yellow, but Victory didn’t care and almost immediately Gestede had a chance to bring his side level when he was picked out atop the six-yard-box by a Kruse; only to then somehow put his header into the chest of a scrambling Filip Kurto. 

“We’ll be looking to try and speak to… we’ve already had another team have a card rescinded [Central Coast Mariners stopper Kye Rowles],” Rudan said following the game. “So we’ll be, I think, looking to do the same thing [for Uskok]”

The momentum was now with the side in Navy Blue, and Markovic’s pickpocketing of Wales as the winger attempted to clear his side’s lines and cross to the Benin international gave the big man his goal and restored Victory to an equilibrium. 

“It’s difficult to sit here and talk about the positives but yeah, at 3-1 down with the players we had out there – we had a lot of young players out there – to get back in the game was pleasing,” said Brebner.

But fitting with the way that the competition has played out this year, the drama was yet to reach its crescendo and Lachlan Wales late cross – thanks to Milanovic’s brave attempt on the ball – made its way to Sanchez and allowed the Spaniard to fire home a winner with almost the final kick of the game to put a bow on yet another classic A-League contest in 2020-21. 

Melbourne Victory XI: Max Crocombe (GK), Storm Roux, Leigh Broxham, Aaron Anderson, Dalibor Markovic, Jacob Butterfield, Jake Brimmer, Birkan Kirdar, Robbie Kruse, Callum McManaman, Rudy Gestede
Subs: Matt Acton (GK), Jay Barnett, Brandon Lauton, Elvis Kamsoba, Zayden Bello, Matt Bozinovski, Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio
Coach: Grant Brebner

Western United XI: Filip Kurto (GK), Aaron Calver, Tomislav Uskok, Tomoki Uskok, Connor Pain, Steven Lustica, Víctor Sánchez, Dylan Pierias, Alessandro Diamanti, Iker Guarrotxena, Besart Berisha
Subs: Ryan Scott (GK), Lachlan Wales, Kaine Sheppard, Ivan Vujica, Luke Duzel, Nicolas Milanovic, Jerry Skotadis
Coach: Mark Rudan

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