Melbourne Victory have blown the chance to solidify their Hyundai A-League finals spot after being held to a 1-1 draw by a 10-man Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park on Sunday.
The visitors took a first half lead through youngster Ryan Kitto but their joy was soured just a couple of minutes later when Daniel Mullen saw red for a second bookable offence.
Victory made the most of their numerical advantage by drawing level through Besart Berisha after the break but neither side could find a winner in an entertaining finish to the contest.
The result means Victory stays three points ahead of seventh-placed Sydney FC in the fight for the last finals spot with three rounds to play.
0-1 Kitto (37’) – A turnover by the Victory defence got Leonardo into a dangerous area and the Brazilian’s cross was bundled home from close range by Kitto.
1-1 Berisha (57’) – A brilliant lofted pass by Matthieu Delpierre saw Berisha get in behind the defence, controlling the ball on his chest before holding off a defender and firing low past Mark Birighitti.
Early in the second half, Enver Alivodic has a great chance to double Newcastle’s lead when he twisted and turned around a couple of defenders only for his right foot strike to sail just wide of the target.
It proved a costly miss as just four minutes later Berisha equalised and any real hope the Jets had of taking all three points were gone.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
- This was the first time this season Victory had trailed at the break in a home match.
- Berisha’s goal was his 16 th of the Hyundai A-League campaign, the most scored by a Victory player in a single season.
- While the Jets had Mullen dismissed, Victory committed a load more fouls than the visitors by 22-8.
Making his first start of the season, Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas proved his worth with an exceptional stop midway through the first half.
An excellent move by the Jets ended with Alivodic prodding an effort at goal from close range but Thomas did brilliantly to make the save from point-blank range.
Just minutes after the Jets took the lead, Mullen – already on a yellow - flew into a challenge with Oliver Bozanic with referee Chris Beath deciding the tackle was worth a second booking.
While it appeared Mullen may have won the ball, the defender perhaps should have known better than to go in for a risky tackle when already booked.
THE FINAL WORD
Victory will be ruing the missed chance to put some daylight between themselves and seventh-placed Sydney FC. While they had their chances, they really didn’t make the most of their numerical advantage in the second half. But they still have a buffer heading into the last three matches, which starts with a cracker against the Wanderers at home on Good Friday.
The Jets’ top six hopes are all but over but coach Scott Miller will be proud of their whole-hearted effort to get a point against the champions with just 10 men. And if some of their finishing was just a little bit more clinical, they could have taken more than a point back to Newcastle with them. They return home to take on in-form Perth Glory on Saturday.