Max Burgess continued his red-hot scoring form to keep Western United in the hunt to mark their inaugural season with a trip to the Finals Series following a 2-1 win against Melbourne Victory.
The Green and Black maintained their perfect record against their crosstown rivals with a third straight triumph on the day that both Victorian clubs were released from quarantine to round off a double header at a rain-drenched Bankwest Stadium.
Burgess slammed in a brilliant volley from Connor Pain’s chest pass on 57 minutes to hit his fifth strike in three games, after Tomi Uskok had netted his maiden Hyundai A-League goal following a razor-sharp corner routine between Pain and Burgess on 38 minutes.
Skipper Alessandro Diamanti returned to his inspirational best in an exhibition-style performance, but Storm Roux’s glancing header on 82 minutes made sure Western United were holding on to close the gap on sixth-placed Adelaide United to a single point, with Mark Rudan’s men holding two games in hand.
Victory’s third coach of the campaign following the departures of Marco Kurz and Carlos Salvachua, Grant Brebner, fell to defeat in his first match in the dugout but admitted before the game that he did not want to be considered for the full-time position.
The 10-placed outfit blooded Aaron Anderson and Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio for their senior debuts as they fall 11 points off the top six with four matches to play. The 2017/18 Champions showed spirit to rally late on but Victory have now only won once in their last 10 outings.
With an extra bodies in the middle of the pitch, the Green and Black seized control of possession from the off with Victory content to sit deep and play on the counter. Brebner’s side were quick to stretch their state rivals in the fifth minute, as Andrew Nabbout’s searching pass found Marco Rojas in the clear but the Kiwi attacker dragged his effort wide of Filip Kurto’s goal.
Western United forced Matthew Acton to stay alert when the Victory gloveman punched away Besart Berisha’s deflected effort on 13 minutes and Big V’s shot-stopper was unconvincing when he flapped at Alessandro Diamanti’s free-kick with Berisha waiting to pounce as the clock ticked past the half hour.
It took until the end of the opening stanza for Rudan’s side to break their stubborn opponents down. Diamanti’s precision pass caught Victory’s defensive block out of shape but Acton was quick to block when Max Burgess played in Berisha. Connor Pain and Burgess then combined with an intelligent set piece routine and found Uskok lurking at the far post to hook in the opener with a looping left-footed effort.
Nabbout drilled a low strike across goal which narrowly evaded Rojas’ outstretched foot on the brink of half-time and Victory came out of the blocks quickly when Adam Traore’s surging run caused problems but his 56th-minute cross narrowly evaded the onrushing Rojas. And the Navy Blue paid the price for not taking their chance a minute later, when Steven Lustica’s deep cross was calmly chested down by Pain and Burgess unleashed a stunning strike into the roof of the helpless Acton’s net.
Desperate for a goal against his former club, Besart Berisha saw his 63rd-minute drive beaten away by Acton after Burgess and Diamanti expertly combined, but Victory kept searching for a response as teenager Lawrie-Lattanzio’s stinging long-range attempt was beaten away by Kurto.
Roux’s delicate header from Rojas’ out-swinging corner floated into the net to set up a tense finish on 82 minutes, but a chance for an equaliser never arrived as Western United kickstarted their bid to mark their debut Hyundai A-League season in style.
- Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar
When: Wednesday, 29 July
Where: Bankwest Stadium
Kick-off: 7.30pm (AEST)
- Newcastle Jets v Western United
When: Sunday, 2 August
Where: McDonald Jones Stadium
Kick-off: 7.30pm (AEST)