A stoppage-time header from Besart Berisha has seen Melbourne Victory comeback from three goals down to snatch a 3-3 draw with Central Coast Mariners in a Hyundai A-League classic on Friday night.
In a remarkable game at Simonds Stadium, the Mariners appeared to be cruising to a comfortable win as goals to Harry Ascroft, Josh Bingham and Mitch Austin inside 35 minutes had them 3-0 up at the break.
But the champions hit back in the second half, reducing the deficit to one with 24 minutes left via Besart Berisha’s penalty and another to Archie Thompson.
Just when it looked like the Mariners would hold on under enormous pressure, Berisha had the final say with a strong header to complete a stunning fightback by the champions.
1-0 Ascroft (12’) – Mitch Austin played over an in-swinging corner from the right, with Ascroft rising above Rashid Mahazi and planting a header past Danny Vukovic from six yards out.
2-0 Bingham (30’) – A sloppy turnover in their own half allowed Michael Neill to pick up possession and his reverse pass picked out the run of Bingham who hit a clinical first-time shot across Vukovic into the far corner of the net.
3-0 Austin (35’) – Victory was caught out by a stunning counter attack which ended with Bingham sending Austin through one-on-one and the winger finished superbly past a stranded Vukovic.
3-1 Berisha (60’) – A clumsy challenge on Barbarouses in the box by Ascroft handed Victory a penalty which the Albanian buried in the left corner.
3-2 Thompson (66’) – Barbarouses surged into the box, flicked the ball over Jacob Poscoliero before smashing a shot onto the crossbar but Thompson was on hand to slam home the rebound from about 10 metres out.
3-3 Berisha (90+2’) – A long, hopeful ball into the box was headed across goal by Barbarouses, with Berisha on hand to divert it past Heward-Belle to snatch a point.
Just before the hour mark the Mariners were centimetres away from scoring again as Austin’s shot curled agonisingly wide of the post.
If it had gone in it would have been 4-0 and the match would certainly have been all over as a contest.
Instead Victory went down the other end a minute later, won a penalty which Berisha duly converted and the comeback was well and truly on.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
*The second-half capitulation means the Mariners winless run outside of Gosford has extended to 23 games, while they haven’t had a win in the last seven matches head-to-head against Victory.
*This match was the 189th time a side has trailed 3-0 in the A-League, and only the third time one of those side was able to come back and get a result. Astonishing!
*While they trailed for most of the night, Victory had an overwhelming 15 corners to the Mariners one.
What a 90 minutes we were treated to at Simonds Stadium! The Mariners and Victory treated us to one of the games of the season which had a little bit of everything.
Some outstanding goals, a gripping fightback by Victory and some nail-biting drama. Just what the Hyundai A-League is all about.
With a big crowd of more than 14,000 providing a great atmosphere in Geelong – who have intimated they would like their own A-League franchise in the future – it was a night to remember.
Victory boss Kevin Muscat was a no-nonsense, hard-nosed defender in his pomp so some of his side’s defending would have made his blood boil.
If he had any hair left he would have pulled it all out after half an hour. Victory wore simply torn apart on transition, far too open and allowed the Mariners to exploit them at will in the first half.
While they improved markedly after the break to get a point, Victory’s players can expect a torrid time from the boss on the training pitch this week to try and fix the glaring issues they have at the back.
THE FINAL WORD
The Mariners will be wondering how they threw that away. It all looked so comfortable for them at the break but they were totally overrun in the second half. It will surely feel like a loss for Walmsley’s young, inexperienced squad. Can he pick them up for next Saturday’s trip to Adelaide United?
Is Victory in crisis? One win from their last seven games would suggest so, especially looking at their first half performance against the Mariners. While their second half was exceptional to get a draw, it could be argued it’s just papering over a few cracks. Muscat will need to tighten things up in time for next Friday’s clash with in-form league leaders Brisbane Roar at AAMI Park.