After VAR review, Victory beats Wellington 3-1

Melbourne Victory’s slim hopes of a fourth A-League Men’s premiership remain alive and their club-record undefeated is up to 14 after they recorded a 3-1 win over Wellington Phoenix on Friday evening. 

Goals to Nicholas D’Agostino, Jake Brimmer, and Marco Rojas proved enough for coach Tony Popovic’s side to temporarily move into second place on the ALM table and overcome Gael Sandoval’s 26th-minute penalty. 

That rather muted description, however, is somewhat underselling the chaos, theatre of the absurd, and the long, long delays in play that almost left the result an afterthought.

Taking the lead after less than 120 seconds and Phoenix looking like they could hardly love a glove on them, Victory looked like they were set to cruise to a win that, at least temporarily, would lift them to second on the table. 

However, two penalties awarded to the visitors in quick succession – both after VAR reviews – served to put the cat amongst the pigeons: Victory keeper Ivan Kelava able to keep out Reno Piscopo’s spot-kick in the 20th minute but unable to block away Sandoval’s effort in the 26th. 

Whereas the initial review to determine that Josh Brillante had handled the ball inside the area was quick and accurate, the second to correctly determine that Leigh Broxham had elbowed Piscopo as they contested a Sam Sutton cross that immediately followed the Phoenix attacker’s penalty took five minutes off the game clock.

Then again, if it had been delayed another four minutes Victory at least would have at least been able to keep their record of not conceding in the opening 30 minutes of an ALM game this season. 

And controversy would rear its head once again in the second half. Of course it did. Because the A-Leagues aren’t allowed to just have nice, normal things.

After D’Agostino appeared to have restored Victory’s lead in the 61st minute, a lengthy VAR review was initiated as referee Shaun Evans was called over to assess what soon proved to be a myriad of issues in the build-up. 

Initially, it looked like the goal would be ruled out for a foul on Ben Old by Rai Marchan in the build-up, the Spaniard sliding in with a dangerous challenge that, probably rightly, deserved to be pulled up. 

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But wait! The review went deeper! After further checks of the replay, it was determined that even before Marchan had collected Old another infraction had occurred when Jason Davidson’s attempt to whip a ball into the box was blocked away by the hand of Louis Fenton. 

It was a parfait of a decision — there was layers to it.

“The referees are heavily reliant on VAR to make sure that they don’t miss anything,” said Wellington coach Ufuk Talay.

“They should make the call that they see on the park and live with the decision but unfortunately we’ve got VAR that will pull it back up, whether they’ve made the right or wrong decision. I think the referees are using it very much so as a safety net.”

Nonetheless, the correct decision was eventually reached and Jake Brimmer fired home from the spot. Seven minutes later, it was 2-1… again. 

“When you see the referees there for such a long time, usually, my belief is that there’s not enough there to change your mind and to change the decision,” Popovic said.

“Frustrating for the amount of time it takes definitely because unfortunately, it builds anxiety and frustration amongst the players.

“You can see there’s more anger amongst the players because of these moments that last for so long.

“So make the decision, make it quickly and move on. I’ve always maintained that.

“If we can fix that, then that will obviously help the situation.”

Perhaps mercifully, however, just to spare everyone from that goal being the deciding one, Davidson fired in a cross to the back post that Rojas was inexplicably free to head home in the 78th, capping off a fine team move forward. 

“VAR is to help the referee if they miss something,” Talay said. “Obviously, humans make errors.

“But for me, the process, if it’s taking too long and what they’re looking at, and sometimes we don’t know on the sideline, which becomes a little bit frustrating, obviously when it takes a longer time as well.”

With three points in the bag, Victory moves into second place on the ALM table with a tally of 45, one clear of now third-placed Western United. The side in Green and Black, though, retains two games in hand on Victory. 

City also possesses a game in hand over Victory but, at least keeping a bit of pressure on them, their lead over their darker-hued rivals has now shrunk to one point.  They will end their season against Sydney FC next week.

“First and foremost, we’re delighted we won the game,” Popovic said.

“We put in a very good performance after a very difficult period for us. We played Friday away, Monday away in tough conditions. Friday in tough conditions. So three big games in seven days and to perform in that manner, at home, is so pleasing for all of us, everyone involved in the club is delighted with our performance.

“And now put pressure on the other two. Which is what we were trying to do. We’ve gone 14 games undefeated so that’s why we’ve managed to do that, so credit to the players to put us in position. We’ve got one game to win. We’ve got to beat Sydney FC. That’s what we can control. Now we’ve put pressure on the other two.”

With two games remaining, Wellington sits four points clear of seventh-placed Macarthur FC in the race for ALM finals. With a goal difference of -15, though, their ability to hold off sixth-placed Central Coast Mariners, who now hold a game in hand, looks like a mighty task; a starting Western Sydney Wanderers on Thursday.

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