Victory break down Western resistance to earn 1-1 draw in ALM

Melbourne Victory has huffed, puffed and eventually found a way through Western United’s defence to salvage a 1-1 draw in Leigh Broxham’s 350th A-League Men game on Wednesday evening. 

Put in a 1-0 hole thanks to Nikolai Topor-Stanley’s 47th-minute go-ahead goal, Victory threw themselves against their foes’ backline time and time as the second half progressed at AAMI Park: desperate not to become the eighth opposition to fall prey to a 1-0 loss to the men in Green and Black. 

But helped by some wayward opposition radars and some superb work from goalkeeper Jamie Young, Western’s contentment to sit back and defend a lead look set to secure another victim – Victory’s attack without the services of Ben Folami and Nick D’Agostino due to international duty. 

But Brendan Hamill, effectively playing as a striker alongside fellow defender Roderick Miranda in a desperate search for goals, finally found the back of the net with a deserved equaliser in the 85th minute to take a point. 

“[I’m feeling] a mixture of all different emotions because yeah frustration and not converting opportunities but happy with creating opportunities,” Victory boss Tony Popovic said.

“Happy with the character shown to come from a goal behind. It’s a team that does very well when they’re in front and it’s proven.

“We should have scored just before half-time, right on half-time and then we concede a minute after half-time.

“So there’s a big shift in the dynamic of the game. So we had to forget that quickly and maybe it shows how far the team has come or the club.

“I think that just shows you how far they’ve come. You can see there is a lot of belief in the group. You know, maybe last year that’s a game we as a club lose and maybe lose it well, lose it comfortably.”

Moving three points clear of the chasing pack in the sixth position on the ALM table, Popovic’s side will now seek to break their run of three league draws in a row when they host Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday. 

Still within touching distance of top-of-the-table Melbourne City — who beat Brisbane Roar 3-2 in Queensland on Wednesday — despite being winless in their last three, Western will seek to bounce back into the winner’s column and keep the pressure on their premiership rivals when they travel to face Roar next Saturday.

“You’re always disappointed when you put yourself in that position and you concede so late on but just pleased because the players have had to deal with some difficult circumstances,”

“We’ve got a few experienced players out, plus Josh Risdon going down quite early, that we had to reshuffle the whole backline and our midfield.

“Really proud of the group. They show time and time again when things are against them, especially after losing the last game, that they react well and their resilience is really good.”

Though neither side could have been described as being adventurous throughout the opening half, it was Western United that had the better of the chances across the dour 45 minutes. 

Seeking to add to his four goals this season, Steven Luštica forced a strong save from Ivan Kelava in the eighth minute and then let loose with a long-range effort in the 21st that Kelava spilled back into play. 

Aleksandar Prijović attempted to pounce in the aftermath, only for Jason Davidson to slide in just in time to clear the ball away. 

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But a blow was dealt to the side in Green and Black a minute later, however, when Josh Risdon succumbed to an ankle knock he had suffered earlier in the contest and was forced from the field. 

“A little bit worried, to be honest. Because Josh Risdon’s so strong that he doesn’t go down for no reason so a little bit worried,” said Aloisi. “He tried so many times to get through it. So it’s unfortunate.

“Hopefully, it’s nothing serious. Hopefully, it’s something that will only keep him out, he’s suspended on Saturday anyway, for a short period because he’s massive for us. He’s one of our leaders. He’s one of our captains.”

Victory’s best chance of the opening half arrived very late after Jake Brimmer floated a long ball into the penalty that was headed down perfectly for Francesco Margiotta.

But the Italian, starting in the absence of D’Agostino, inexplicably put his effort onto the crossbar. 

And it took just two minutes of the second half for Victory to be made to rue that missed opportunity when, in a move that looked to be straight off the training track, Western took the lead.

Darting around his marker on the near post to meet Lachlan Wales’ corner, Connor Pain nodded the ball onwards to a wide-open Topor-Stanley inside Victory’s six-yard-box: the 37-year-old powering his resulting header home in his 358th ALM game.

Down 1-0 against a side that has a well-earned reputation for defending slender leads, the goal served to spur Victory into life and they quickly began to pepper the goals of Jamie Young. 

Rojas had a shot deflected, with Margiotta’s attempted rebound charged down, in the 50th minute before a long-range effort from Jake Brimmer forced a sharp save from the Western keeper three minutes later.  

Darting across the top of the box before shooting, Rojas again forced Young to put an effort out for a corner in the 62nd minute, Nishan Velupillay forced him into action with a headed effort in the 65th and Rojas shot over the bar in the 67th. 

Victory was throwing everything at the kitchen sink at their opponents – but Western was holding strong. 

The ground rose as one to welcome Broxham to the field in the 79th minute as he made his 350th but Young was unmoved: producing a top-shelf save to deny Jason Geria in the 83rd frame. 

Yet eventually, Western was made to pay for their willingness to surrender the initiative to Victory when Hamill netted with five minutes of regulation remaining. 

“I’ve always watched Broxham from afar and in seeing him play all the various positions on the field and always do a good job for Melbourne Victory,” Popovic said.

“Now, I’ve got the opportunity to coach him. It’s a credit to himself and his family and also a credit to the football club to have him here for so long and hopefully, he will be here for a very long time in whatever capacity that is.”

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