Melbourne Victory have disposed of Western Sydney 3-1 in a match that saw both teams reduced to 10.Melbourne Victory have returned to third on the A-League table, disposing of Western Sydney 3-1 in a madcap battle that saw both teams reduced to 10 men.
Goals to Leroy George, Besart Berisha and Thomas Deng earned Victory three crucial points at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
But the scoreline was only half of it.
A shrewd tactical battle between two of the league’s more strategic coaches became a circus in first-half injury time, when Michael Thwaite and Kosta Barbarouses were sent off.
At that stage, George’s deflected free kick and Alvaro Cejudo’s well-executed chip of Lawrence Thomas had the sides at 1-1.
Insanity then reigned for five minutes – beginning with Thwaite’s bumbling.
The ex-Victory stopper earlier fouled Barbarouses for his first yellow, then fumbled a backpass for a corner kick that would bring about his demise.
He was judged to have pulled down Rhys Williams at the set piece and sent on his way by referee Shaun Evans.
In the wait for Berisha to take the penalty, the video assistant spotted more.
While no one at the ground had any idea what was going on, after a four-minute wait Evans also showed red to the Kiwi international for stomping on Keanu Baccus’ foot.
Berisha converted the spot kick to return Victory to the lead in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
With just 20 players on the pitch, the match opened up in the second half – and Victory took advantage.
Deng absolutely laced a first-time volley from Terry Antonis’ cross, wheeling away in delight and surprise at his uncharacteristic strike.
Chances continued to rain at each end but none would find the net as Victory lowered the intensity – perhaps with an eye to Wednesday’s crucial Asian Champions League match against Ulsan Hyundai.
Kevin Muscat’s side will now head to South Korea in a confident mood, rebounding from last week’s streak-ending defeat in Perth.
Muscat said he was delighted with his side’s second-half response.
“The pitch doesn’t change in size but there seems to be so much more space,” he said.
“Instructed to carry out certain things … they were exceptional.
“The biggest thing was the collectiveness tonight.”
The Wanderers must now re-group for their own do-or-die clash next week.
The loss drops Western Sydney to seventh place and with Thwaite on the sidelines, they face sixth-placed Brisbane next Saturday in an effective elimination final.
Wanderers coach Josep Gombau said the match hinged on the first-half injury time moments, outlining his frustration with his team’s lack of concentration – and not the refereeing.
“I am more disappointed in the way we conceded this penalty and red card,” he said.
“We scored the goal and it’s one minute until the change room for half-time. It’s disappointing.”
Victory will also face disciplinary ramifications.
Barbarouses is likely to cop a two-match ban for his red card, while Williams will also sit out next Sunday’s match against Wellington after picking up his eighth yellow of the campaign.