Socceroo answers ‘million dollar question’ with star showing in Victory’s Original Rivalry triumph

Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory - Extended Highlights | Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 | Round 20

Two goals to Bruno Fornaroli earned Melbourne Victory Original Rivalry bragging rights in a breathless 2-1 win over Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium on Saturday night.

Nestory Irankunda came off the bench to bring Adelaide level with a scorching strike in the second half before Fornaroli completed his brace from the spot in a game brimming with big chances, dramatic saves and nearly moments.

Defeat to Victory ensured Adelaide’s winless run at home extended to six games – an equal record for the hosts in Isuzu UTE A-League history (x2 – D2 L4 from January to March in 2012 and D3 L3 from November 2009 to January 2010).

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Victory made a blistering start to the Original Rivalry, with Salim Khelifi and Zinedine Machach at the heart of the early impetus from the visitors.

The former sent the latter steaming in on goal for the first genuine chance of the game, but a desperate sliding block from Reds defender Nick Ansell ensured the ball looped over the crossbar.

Machach then turned provider for Khelifi in the 10th minute, sliding the Tunisian down the right flank to angle a cross toward the danger zone. Khelifi misfired and the ball instead rifled toward the near post, but James Delianov scrambled back to tip the cross-turn-shot out for a corner.

Victory’s pressure almost resulted in the opener when Machach fed a pass to the feet of Nishan Velupillay on the edge of the area. Velupillay’s first touch left Reds defender Ansell all at sea and set up a glorious sight on goal – but the chance was wasted as Delianov blocked the Victory winger’s attempt.

The visitors had dominated the opening half hour but had nothing to show for their efforts until Fornaroli broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute.

Machach had his fingerprints all over the Victory move, driving through midfield and setting up Velupillay whose shot was saved into Fornaroli’s path to finish.

Reds coach Carl Veart brought Irankunda off his bench at half-time and the teenager’s impact was felt instantly from the off.

An energetic start to his substitute appearance led to a rasping strike from range that Victory keeper Paul Izzo failed to handle. Irankunda’s shot squirmed under Izzo’s arms and into the back of the net as the hosts drew level at Coopers Stadium.

Adelaide’s parity would last just six minutes.

Referee Alireza Faghani spotted a handball from Ansell inside the penalty area after a shot from Fornaroli and the subsequent penalty awarded to Victory was tucked away with emphasis from the Socceroos striker who, after taking his goals tally on the night to two, reclaimed the lead at the top of the Golden Boot standings with his 15th of the season.

After reclaiming the lead, Victory managed to put the clamps on Adelaide’s early momentum and manage the game toward the final five minutes of regular time. Then, action exploded down both ends in a dramatic conclusion.

Fornaroli was centimetres from a hat-trick when his shot dropped off the crossbar and toward the goal line but Adelaide survived the scare and launched a rapid counter-attack, resulting in a free-kick which Zach Clough whipped into Giuseppe Bovalina’s path.

Bovalina headed on target and Izzo produced a quick-thinking save to deny the hosts a leveller.

With two goals on Saturday night, Fornaroli rose back to the top of the Golden Boot leaderboard, adding goals 14 and 15 to his tally for the season.

The 13 scored prior to Round 20 came in Fornaroli’s first 10 appearances of the season before jetting off to Qatar with the Socceroos for the Asian Cup.

Fornaroli fractured his left hand in his comeback appearance against Macarthur and has been battling back from the injury ever since.

After his Original Rivalry brace, Fornaroli joined the Paramount+ post-game show where he addressed his subdued return in Victory colours since the Asian Cup.

“That’s the million dollar question, you know? As soon as I came back everyone asked for goals!” He said.

“But the reality is, after the first game I broke my hand and it was difficult to come back… I use my left hand to protect the ball and to hold the defenders. When this happened, it was difficult because you play with the pain. But you have to get through – and I don’t like to miss games.

“I did eveything that was in my hands to get back quickly and help the team. I’m very happy to be back, to win tonight.”

Fornaroli’s two goals against Adelaide ended his four-game goalless run and helped Victory to within six points of league-leaders Wellington Phoenix, who fell to a 1-0 defeat to Melbourne City in the earlier Saturday kick-off.

Fornaroli says winning the Isuzu UTE A-League Championship is his stop priority this season, and Saturday’s results have only fuelled the aspiration.

“Look, we believe,” he said. “I think we showed (that) tonight.

“I’ve never won this league, the A-League. So for me, it’s there – and I want to take it.

“Sometimes I’m not relaxed enough, because I think it’s our chance. We have a great squad, great team, great players and like you say, it’s only six points away. We have a lot of games to come at home, we have to play against Wellington away.

“We have the chance and we know that, so we need to be calm and try to be back on the basics and believe.”