Victory and Adelaide share spoils after explosive conclusion to latest Original Rivalry clash

Inevitably across the length of a footballing season, you’re going to get the odd lemon here or there; a game that begins to feel more and more like a chore to watch as it progresses and in which, if you’re not viewing out of obligation, makes you wonder why you’re still there as the minutes pass by. 

Heading into its final exchanges, Melbourne Victory’s 1-1 draw Adelaide United was looking like one of those games.

But then the final six minutes happened. 

“It was a bit crazy, wasn’t it?” Melbourne Victory boss Tony Popovic said post-game. “It was end to end. That’s how the game panned out, we scored a wonderful goal, they scored a nice finish as well off the cross.”

After 84 minutes of football defined by bluntness, haphazard skill, sub-optimal decision making and a conservative timidity in approach from both teams, Nicholas D’Agostino’s 84th-minute thunderbolt – the first shot on target either side had produced to that point – served to break the latest iteration of the Original Rivalry wide open. 

As the attacker sauntered away in celebration, it appeared that ‘Daggers’ and his Victory had stolen a win that would get their 2022 off with a bang: moving further clear atop the A-League Men table just days on from advancing to the semifinals of the FFA Cup. 

Yet mnutes later, the tables appeared to have quickly turned when Javi Lopez put the ball in the back of the net up the other end of the pitch – only for the strike to be disallowed by referee Shaun Evans after, in consultation with his linesman, he determined that Stefan Mauk had slid into Victory keeper Ivan Kelava during the build-up and unfairly impeded the big Croatian from an offside position. 

Alas for Adelaide, whether Kelava would have actually been able to recover to save Lopez’s effort was inconsequential to the ruling; merely the fact that he could have and was impeded enough to justify the decision. 

Stand-in Adelaide boss Ross Aloisi, however, disagreed. 

“In my opinion, Stefan Mauk has headed the ball and he’s gone to ground,” he said.

“That’s part of the game. He’s not standing in front of the keeper, he’s not blocking the keeper. It just happened that he was there and Javi Lopez scored a cracking goal. 

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“I’m told that it didn’t go to VAR, I don’t know if it did or it didn’t but we have got to accept it and move it and we are happy with the result we got anyway.”

Tempers flaring and the challenges flying in heavy and fast, the Reds then stuck again, this time in a manner that stood, in the 91st minute when Lopez found a yard of space on the right and floated a ball across the penalty area that Craig Goodwin met with a sweetly hit left-footed volley that buried itself in the bottom corner of the net. 

The winger promptly wheeled away in celebration, burying himself in the arms of the group of Adelaide supporters ensconced in the corner of AAMI Park but, as he did so, his teammate Isaías was being shown a second yellow card and sent off after an exchange with Evans.

“I spoke to Isaias and he said he spoke in Spanish and said ‘vamos’,” Aloisi said when questioned on the dismissal. “He asked the referee why he gave him a yellow card and he said he can’t scream in his face like that.

“Then after I was told, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I was told the referee thought he said ‘f**k off” and Isaias is 100% certain that he never ever said that.

“I’ll speak to the club and see if we can appeal that second yellow card.”

More drama, albeit nowhere near as chaotically fun as that which had filled the exchanges prior, would follow in the final moments of injury time: Josh Cavallo and Louis D’Arrigo – who had only entered the game as second-half substitutes – both substituted off with suspected concussions. 

With Isaías potentially staring down the barrel of a one-match ban, the injury is a particular blow to D’Arrigo — who likely would have started the Reds next fixture against Melbourne City next week if the ban stood. 

“I’m extremely proud of the players and the effort they put in tonight,” Aloisi reflected epost-game. “They never gave up. 

“We kept Melbourne Victory to one shot on target and that was the goal. Our goalkeeper didn’t make a save. We scored two goals [Aloisi counting Lopez’s disallowed figure in his talley] and we could have had another two on set pieces – that one hit the cross-bar and Jacob Tratt should’ve scored in the first half. 

“It wasn’t our best game but the possession stats were very even. I must say, to come back against Melbourne Victory, in Melbourne, the league leaders and score two goals after they score their goal late in the game is something to be proud of.”

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Of course, in fairness to Aloisi, it wasn’t exactly Victory’s best game either. 

Prior to D’Agostino’s bolt from the heavens, the latest battle between the two heated rivals had combined to produce 22 shots between the two combatants – 11 of them from inside the box – but neither had been able to muster an effort that forced the opposition custodian into making a save. 

And pretty as D’Agostino’s goal was, it was hardly proceeded by a free-flowing moment of inspiration: derived from a second ball situation after Brandan Hamill sent a long ball forward to Lleyton Brooks. 

Outside of the rare occasions the Reds were able to work the ball to Bernando Oliveira on their right-wing prior to his substitution, they offered little in the way of panache on the occasions when their laggard midfield was able to actually progress the ball into their attacking third. 

Increasing this frustration, despite Bernando working against what was ostensibly Victory’s fourth choice right-back in Jay Barnett, the Reds consistently favoured the left flank of Goodwin and the runs in behind of Mauk throughout the contest – an area their foes had zeroed in on as an area of focus.

Nonetheless, despite this unsophistication in approach, the Reds still found themselves kept in the game — and arguably having the better chances to score — by a Victory attack that consistently failed to create chances that would quicken the pulse of Joe Gauci in the Reds goal. 

Be it in moments of transition or the occasions when they were able to get down the flanks and whip a cross in, Popovic’s side was consistently let down by errors of skill, last-ditch defending, or simply flat out bad decision making. 

Emblematic of this, Victory’s best opportunity prior to their goal was delivered in the 61st minute of the contest when Ben Folami threaded a pass in front of an advancing D’Agostino one-on-one with Gauci – only for the striker to trip over the ball and fail to get a shot off. 

“When you hit the target, you have a better chance of scoring, of course,” said Popovic. 

“You can look at it in many different ways. We had a good chance in the first half that was blocked. It was more in the final third that just the last pass let us down. 

“There was a lot of good openings, a lot of good football to get there. That’s maybe a lack of experience from players. But the more they get in those areas the better they’ll get.”

Admittedly for the side in Navy Blue, their outlook wasn’t helped by the sudden absence of several key members of the squad. 

Prior to this weekend, Victory was the only squad in A-League Men yet to record a case of COVID amongst their ranks. It became quickly apparent when the teamsheets were delivered on Saturday evening, however, that that had changed. 

Francesco Margiotta, Jason Davidson, Matt Spiranovic, Leigh Broxham, Marco Rojas, Robbie Kruse, Chris Ikonomidis, and Stefan Nigro were all absent from the contingent tapped to take on the reds. The club subsequently confirmed that while Davidson, Ikonomidis, and Spiranovic were all injured, the rest were all set to miss through COVID protocols.

“We don’t feel concerned about any particular player,” Popovic, reluctant to draw focus on the absences, said on his player’s condition. 

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Header Image Credit: Channel 10/Paramount+

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