Shining Olyroos talent finds what he was craving in fresh start at Victory: ‘It was time’

Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix - Highlights | Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 | Round 04

Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix have played out an intense 1-1 draw brimming with talking points to kick off Round 4 of the Isuzu UTE A-League season at AAMI Park on Friday night.

Pre-game, all the focus was on in-form strikers Bruno Fornaroli and Oskar Zawada who, after three rounds in the Isuzu UTE A-League, have been dominant for their respective sides. But neither Victory’s Fornaroli or Wellington’s Zawada managed to impact the scoresheet on a night where the Phoenix failed to register a single shot.

Victory, meanwhile, had 18 – seven of which on target – but could only muster one goal for their troubles on a night of frustration for Tony Popovic’s side.

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Victory took a first-half lead through Olyroos midfielder Ryan Teague’s first-ever A-Leagues goal, before an own goal to Damien Da Silva brought the visitors back on level terms. 

Wellington earned a penalty shortly before half-time, only for a lengthy VAR inquiry to instead award Victory a free-kick with an offside ruling on Nicholas Pennington, who had earned the spot kick due to a foul from Da Silva just inside the penalty area.

The hosts were awarded a penalty of their own in the second half for a handball on Phoenix defender Lukas Kelly-Heald, but this time it was the ‘Nix who benefited from a VAR review as referee Shaun Evans revoked his original decision after reviewing the incident on the pitchside monitor. 

Victory winger Nishan Velupillay then had his own claims for a penalty waved away by Evans after another incident involving Kelly-Heald, with the young Wellington defender having a bite at winning possession from the feet of Velupillay as he skipped past, leading to the Victory youngster going down in the box.

After six minutes of added time, referee Evans blew time on the hotly-contested Friday-night affair with both Victory and Wellington taking a point apiece from the Round 4 opener. The 1-1 draw sent both sides into the top two spots on the table to begin the weekend, one point ahead of both Adelaide United and Macarthur FC with eight points to Melbourne and Wellington apiece. 

The star

Olyroos midfielder Ryan Teague is enjoying a sensational start to life in the Isuzu UTE A-League, and on Friday night, and scored his maiden league goal to cap off his sparkling Melbourne Victory form.

The 21-year-old left home just three days after his 18th birthday in search of opportunities abroad, departing Sydney FC to join Portuguese side FC Famalicão.

But after catching the eye with the Olyroos at the Maurice Revello Tournament in France this past off-season, Teague decided it was time to return home in search of consistent first-team minutes – and has got exactly that under Tony Popovic at Victory.

Together with 22-year-old Fabian Monge, Teague is part of one of the most inexperienced midfield duos in the Isuzu UTE A-League showing composure beyond their years through four unbeaten rounds of the new season at Victory.

“I don’t score too many goals! It was good to get on the scoresheet but I think overall, it’s a pretty frustrating night for us,” Teague told Paramount+ after the 1-1 draw. “They had no shots on (goal) the whole game, and we’ve only come away with one point. It feels a bit hard today.

“I think what we do in training, (Zinedine Machach) talks to us all the time. It’s not just him – there’s experienced boys behind us like (Roderick Miranda) and Damien (Da Silva) as well. I think that gives us extra confidence in midfield to perform.

“It was time for me to push into a first-team squad. I didn’t get the chance overseas. When I came here it was all about getting an opportunity to play in the first team, and so far that’s what I’ve been able to do.

“I moved out three days after my 18th birthday all alone. I was away for three-and-a-half years, and I think coming back here I’m a bit more resilient and confident in myself, and hopefully I’ve shown that in the games so far.”

The talking point

There was drama late in the first half when the officiating team ruled against the original decision to award Wellington a penalty after a foul from Damien Da Silva on Nicholas Pennington.

On-field referee Shaun Evans gave the spot kick after Da Silva’s push in the back of Pennington, but VAR intervened to find an offside ruling on the Phoenix midfielder as he latched onto a lofted ball into the penalty area.

The ‘Nix failed to put a shot on target throughout the 90 minutes, leading to a unique situation where both sides left the ground feeling they could have taken all three points, but for very different reasons.

What it means

For both teams, a point on Friday night ensured their respective unbeaten runs continued to start the season. Victory and Wellington occupy first and second place on the Isuzu UTE A-League table after the first game of Round 4, with both Adelaide United and Macarthur FC in position to jump ahead into the top two spots with positive results this weekend.

What they said

Hear from Melbourne Victory head coach Tony Popovic and Wellington boss Giancarlo Italiano as they dissected the action from an interesting night at AAMI Park.