A cool late finish by Kosta Barbarouses with less than a minute of normal time remaining was enough to give Melbourne Victory a nerve-wracking 3-2 win over Perth Glory in a dramatic finale at a rain-lashed AAMI Park on Saturday night.
Spanish striker Diego Castro looked as though he had rescued a point for the visitors when he sprang Victory’s defensive line with five minutes remaining to lob an equaliser over Victory’s stand-in goalkeeper Matt Acton. That would have been a result which Victory boss Kevin Muscat would have seen as an injustice after his side bounced back strongly after conceding a goal in the second minute of the game.
But Barbarouses’ late strike, when he finished from a superb cross field pass from Leroy George, restored Muscat’s smile and left Glory boss Kenny Lowe cursing his luck.
Lowe had delivered his players a huge serve in full view of the cameras at training last week, and if he was looking for an immediate reaction he got it in the shape of a goal within 90 seconds.
Victory failed to deal with a corner from the Glory right and when the ball fell out wide on the left to Walter Scott the youngster needed little invitation to whip a cross back into the danger area.
Defender Scott Neville escaped his markers and flashed a header past Acton, who was forced to pick the ball out of his own net less than two minutes into his first appearance of the season.
Acton was playing because regular goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas suffered a foot injury in Victory’s controversial 2-1 loss to Wellington, but he wasn’t the only change to Muscat’s line up.
Muscat also shuffled his midfield to include new signing Terry Antonis for his first start in a Victory shirt.
Like the rest of his teammates he began this game slowly and Victory collectively looked like a team coming to terms with being caught so cold so early.
But Antonis was quick to stamp his influence on the game. Two footed and with good vision and control, he showed that he wanted the ball as much as he could get it, and displayed an impressive range of passing both left and right, short and long as he tried to kick-start his new team’s revival.
George, the Dutch winger who has been a shining light in an otherwise rather dull season for Victory, also got into the groove and began to create space and opportunities on both flanks as he ranged from left to right.
Antonis’ clever flighted ball set up Barbarouses in the 16th minute, but the Kiwi winger’s fierce drive flew across the face of goal. Minutes later the same two players linked again, Antonis once more the provider, before Barbarouses’ cross was headed to safety by Neville.
George then switched to the right and glided past Scott and Xavier Torres before feeding James Troisi, but the latter could not get his cross over.
Antonis linked well with full-back Jason Geria before George, back on the left flank, skated past Glory full-back Jeremy Walker to set up Barbarouses, but he put his effort straight at goalkeeper Liam Reddy.
Victory got the goal their pressure deserved approaching the half-hour mark, and George was heavily involved yet again.
The Dutchman intercepted a lazy pass in the centre of the field by Castro, burst forward and played a one-two with Besart Berisha which left him clear in space. George’s initial shot was blocked by Reddy, but he managed to scramble the rebound into space and Troisi reacted quickest of all, smashing the ball home to level the score.
After the restart, Victory got their noses in front, with George again playing a major role.
The Dutchman whipped in a tantalising, curling cross from a free kick wide on the Victory right which Milligan, reacting quicker than the Glory defence, got to first before lashing a shot past Reddy on the half-volley.
With 19 minutes remaining Leigh Broxham eventually made his 250th appearance, replacing Dino Djulbic in the middle of the back four, and, after a topsy turvy finale, was able to celebrate in style.