An own-goal from Yianni Nicolaou in the 95th minute salvaged a point for a 10-man Melbourne Victory in their 1-1 draw with Macarthur FC at Campbelltown Stadium.
Matt Millar’s opener in the 12th minute looked destined to be the winner until the final few seconds of the contest, when a darting run from Bruno Fornaroli caused confusion in the Bulls defence, with the ball ricocheting off Nicolaou and into the back of the net.
Any chance of a Victory comeback looked up in smoke when Adama Traore was sent off just after the hour mark, for a high boot on Ulises Davila, but Tony Popovic’s side showed plenty of mettle to continue fighting despite the Bulls’ numerical advantage for much of the second-half on Friday night.
It means both teams remain undefeated to start the season, sitting on two wins and three draws respectively after five games.
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But for the Bulls it’s the second consecutive match they’ve dropped two points in second-half stoppage time, having surrendered a two-goal lead against Melbourne City in the final moments just before the international break.
It kicks off a busy period for the Bulls, who now head into a huge week where they’ll play Shan United in a crucial AFC Cup contest on Thursday night and Adelaide United next Sunday.
Victory – on the other hand – sit top of the standings on goal difference going into the remainder of Round 5, but are without a win in three games after consecutive draws coming into the contest.
In the wet, Mile Sterjovski’s side got off to a blistering start and it didn’t take long for them to find the opener. Davila played the ball through to Millar, who timed his run in behind the Victory defence to perfection and slotted it past Paul Izzo.
Millar’s goal was Macarthur’s first they’ve scored in a first-half this A-Leagues season.
Incredibly, they are still yet to concede in an opening half too and the heroics of Kurto ensured that streak extended for a fifth straight game as Victory worked their way into the contest.
The Polish keeper made a string of quality saves to deny Bruno Fornaroli, Roderick Miranda and Daniel Arzani – with his stop to deny the former particularly impressive.
Back the other way, Macarthur continued to cause headaches, and this time it was Jed Drew, who ignored an open Valere Germain inside the penalty box, before slamming his effort against the crossbar from a tight angle.
There was a minor scare for the Bulls camp on the brink of half-time, when Kurto went down holding his neck after a collision with Ivan Vujica.
Back-up goalkeeper Danijel Nizic was summoned to warm-up, but the former Wellington Phoenix and Western United goalkeeper eventually shook off the ill effects to play out the rest of the contest.
Victory responded well after the break, as Zinedine Machach began having an impact on the contest, but the job was made all the more difficult when Traore caught Davila with a stray boot, receiving his second yellow card and an early shower in the process.
Merely moments after the Victory defender was dismissed for a challenge on Davila the Mexican midfielder had a bullet header parried away by Izzo.
Macarthur continued to push for a second, but a slice of desperate defending from Damien Da Silva kept the visitors in it, making a huge goalline block to deny a goal-bound effort from substitute Raphael Borges Rodrigues.
Victory had a late shout for a penalty when Fornaroli went to ground following a challenge from Jake Hollman, with referee Alireza Feghani called to have a second look at the tackle by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
But Feghani waved play on, believing there wasn’t enough to award the visitors a chance at an equaliser from the spot.
In the dying minutes, Da Silva had a last chance to pull back an equaliser, but he was denied by a goal line clearance from a Bulls defender.
However, Victory would finally breach the Macarthur defence as Fornaroli was played in behind by Nishan Velupillay, leading to the ball rolling into the back of the net off of Nicolaou’s leg.
THE TALKING POINT
Another game, another set of dropped points for Macarthur FC.
Mile Sterjovski’s side have now dropped six points from winning positions this season, the most in the entire Isuzu UTE A-League this campaign so far.
Macarthur surrendered late leads against Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City either side of their win against Central Coast Mariners and Western United, and did so again against a 10-man Melbourne Victory on Friday night with essentially the last kick of the game.
Their late lapses have left six points on the cutting room floor, which could ultimately cost them dearly when the season is all set and done come late April.
Ulises Davila was everywhere on Friday night, putting in his best performance of the season to date.
The midfield maestro was on hand to set up the opener for Matt Millar just after the 10th minute and continued to constantly cause issues in the middle of the park with his creativity and skill.
Had it not been for a top draw save from Paul Izzo, the Mexican midfielder could have easily put the game to rest.
Davila was also fouled in the lead-up to Adama Traore’s sending off for a high boot, one of many strong challenges he received on the night. The 32-year-old called for greater protection from the referees in his post-game interview on Paramount +.
“Sometimes, to be honest, I just don’t feel protected most of the time,” he said.
“I don’t think some challenge are fair and that’s what I ask. Just protect us. That’s what I’m asking.
“I’m not talking bad to the ref. I’m just asking to protect the players and they get upset.”
WHAT THEY SAID
Despite the equaliser going down as a Yianni Nicolaou own-goal, Bruno Fornaroli was adamant he got the final touch!
“Of course, 100% it’s mine,” he said while laughing.
“We didn’t take our chances in the first half, we created a lot of chances. I think we controlled the game. Unfortunately, we conceded one goal, the red card after, it’s disappointing for us.
“At the end of the day, I think we created a lot of chances with 10 men… We didn’t play at our best to do tonight.
“But we keep improving, we have a lot to do, to improve and I think we showed the other part of football which is character tonight and it’s so important if we want to win the league.”
Meanwhile, Macarthur boss Mile Sterjovski believes their “underdog mentality” has to change.
“It’s difficult to lose four points in the last couple of weeks,” he said.
“I thought we deserved a bit more of the game. We had a few good chances in the second half, especially in the end, we come away with a point against a very good team.
“I think we have to start believing that we are a team that can compete against the best. We still have that underdog mentality, I really believe in these players and I think there is a lot left in the tank.”
WHAT THIS MEANS
The late collapse is by no means a disaster for Macarthur who are still unbeaten from their opening five games.
Mile Sterjovski’s side will need to shift their focus quickly to their AFC Cup showdown against Shan United on Thursday night, where a win will take them one step closer to securing a place in the knockout stages, before facing Adelaide United on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Victory will take plenty of encouragement with the way they finished the contest, securing a point when it seemed like the game was lost.
They continue their New South Wales road trip when they face Central Coast Mariners on Sunday in the second of three straight games in the state.