Victory continue to steady the ship with 1-1 draw against Mariners
A second-half Callum McManaman strike helped Melbourne Victory come from behind to draw 1-1 with Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon.
The home side conceded the advantage to the Mariners with just four minutes on the clock through a Matt Simon headed goal but rallied in the second half to draw level with the Premiers Plate contenders, thanks to McManaman's finessed attempt which nestled into the top-right corner of goal in the 62nd minute of play.
The contest at AAMI Park pitted the eleventh-placed Victory against the fourth-placed Mariners. Alen Stajcic's travelling side would have moved to within one point of Melbourne City at the top of the table with a win, but Central Coast couldn't hold on to its 1-0 lead as Victory reacted to going a goal down to carve out a raft of chances to equalise.
Robbie Kruse hit the woodwork in the latter stages of the first half with a magnificent, acrobatic volley on the turn, before the hosts emerged from the break to put the ball in the back of the net through a powerful Rudy Gestede header.
But, referee Jonathan Barreiro was quick to chalk Gestede's equaliser off after deeming the Benin international had fouled Kye Rowles when leaping above the Mariners defender to head home.
Victory's frustrations helped to ramp up the pressure to find another way to reply, and the equaliser ultimately came just after the hour mark when McManaman gathered off a Simon clearance from a free-kick, shifted the ball onto his right and picked out the top corner with the resulting shot.
Late chances presented to either side in stoppage time, with Daniel Bouman heading just wide down one end before Victory midfielder Jake Butterfield tested Mark Birighitti with a well-hit volley from range. But neither side could find the back of the net once more as the final whistle blew with scores locked at 1-1.
Simon got the action rolling at AAMI Park with less than four minutes on the clock, benefiting off a magnificent ball off the right flank by Stefan Nigro to head past Matt Acton, who got a glove on the ball but couldn't deny the home side a goal.
The Mariners forward scored his 10th A-League goal against Victory after involving himself in the link-up play leading to the chance, combining with Oliver Bozanic in midfield before darting toward the front post to meet the exquisite Nigro delivery.
Alou Kuol was handed his first start in Mariners colours since January by head coach Stajcic.
The teenager ended the game goalless but went close to adding his name to the scoresheet on the half-hour mark with a powerful first-time shot which troubled Victory 'keeper Acton.
Nigro sparked the danger off the right flank once again, bombing forward to cut the ball to Josh Nisbet on the edge of the box.
Nisbet brushed his pass further along the line to find Kuol steaming in to unleash his strike on the half-volley; the shot possessed power and accuracy but was placed directly down the centre of goal, leaving Acton in a comfortable position to parry the shot away.
With half-time beckoning Kruse did his best to restore parity in the contest before both sides went into the break, with an attempt on goal created with ambition and executed almost to perfection.
Victory attacked after Gestede won the ball back on the edge of his attacking box, sliding the ball across for Lleyton Brooks to shoot. The ball soared high into the air off a deflection to McManaman at the back post, who headed back into the danger area where Kruse was stood wrestling with Bozanic for position.
Kruse turned his man as the ball dropped to the right side of his body, and with his back to goal volleyed on the turn, falling to the ground as the ball sailed toward goal - only to hit the left-hand goalpost and deny the Victory man a Goal of the Season contender.
Victory persisted into the second half with its pursuit of an equalising goal, and although deprived a Gestede leveller early doors by referee Barreiro the home side pushed on to hit the back of the net again through a McManaman strike on the hour mark which could not be denied.
McManaman showed his technical nous after receiving the ball from Simon's clearing header after a Victory free-kick was swung into a dangerous area in the box.
The winger was positioned on the left-hand side of his attacking box when collecting the ball. McManaman took a touch to control and another to shift the ball to his right before picking out the top-right corner with a delightful curling attempt Birighitti had no chance of keeping out.
Both 'keepers proved vital to their respective teams in the latter stages of the contest. Down one end, Matt Acton was kept on his toes by a Gianni Stensness shot hit with venom from the edge of the box after a lung-bursting run from defence, through midfield and into attack.
Bouman threatened Acton late with a header which just evaded the target, before Birighitti was made to work to keep out a Butterfield volley from distance struck deep into added time. Neither 'keeper was to be beaten once more after the scores were tied up at 1-1, as the sides settled for a point apiece at AAMI Park.
Melbourne Victory v Macarthur FC
Thursday, May 6 2021
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST
Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners
Wednesday, May 12 2021
Moreton Daily Stadium
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST
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