‘One of the best games of football I have seen in a long time’
“It was spectacular, wasn’t it?” said an exasperated Robbie Thompson after commentating through 96 manic Melbourne Derby minutes on Saturday night.
“It doesn’t have to be a World Cup final, it can be a Melbourne Derby and be so tight and passionate.
“It was just brilliant.”
Reigning champions Melbourne City were the hosts, Melbourne Victory the visitors – a club humiliated by last season’s wooden spoon finish, a season containing two Melbourne Derby defeats with an aggregate score of 13-0 in City’s favour.
The heaving crowd divided in loyalty combined as one to set an intoxicating scene at AAMI Park on Saturday night. It was then up to the players to create the spectacle to match.
One could argue they only raised the bar with the gripping encounter that followed.
“For me, that was probably one of the best games of football I have seen in a long time,” said Paramount+ football analyst Archie Thompson post-game.
“(The players) were just throwing themselves at the ball… it was end-to-end, it was just amazing.
If you weren’t at home jumping around, I don’t know what game you were watching. It was fantastic.”
It was a Melbourne Derby classic which truly had it all.
Victory took the lead through Francesco Margiotta in the first half, and rescinded it to City in the second stanza as Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout came to the fore, striking within three minutes of one another to wrench the ascendancy back from Tony Popovic’s side.
The Victory boss brought Nick D’Agostino off his bench, who proceeded to chase down a long ball from goalkeeper Ivan Kelava and draw his side back level with 81 minutes on the clock.
MATCH REPORT: Melbourne City 2-2 Melbourne Victory
The pulsating action ebbed into six additional minutes, in which Maclaren received a red card for what appeared to be a verbal altercation with referee Chris Beath after a frantic goal-mouth scrap in his side’s attacking box.
Paramount+ co-commentator Andy Harper saw the drama unfold and couldn’t help but wonder if he had witnessed the sleeping giant of the Isuzu UTE A-League awaken.
“On the evidence of tonight, Melbourne Victory have looked enviously across town at having their mantle taken, at having been usurped in the sporting capital of Australia, and they’re back to challenge again,” Harper said. “That was a hell of a contest.
“It was absolutely crazy. I’ve got to congratulate all the fans who made for an incredible amphitheatre of noise, and the players who delivered. Rarely do you see that intensity in a game of football anywhere in the world. To have (96) minutes at that level of intensity, that was a rare thing.
“This to me showed, and the number of Victory fans and the noise they made showed how much it has hurt (Victory) losing their mantle as the big boys in town, and how desperate they are to dry and redress that.
Harper continued: “For these two teams come out on a Saturday night, on free-to-air television, people at home (will) sit there – maybe sampling A-League football for the first time in their own lounge rooms – (and) think: ‘I wouldn’t mind having a piece of that again’.”
With honours split on Saturday night, Victory sit in third spot on the Isuzu UTE A-League table, with City trailing by two points in fifth.
Ascendancy on the table means little to Victory five rounds into the Isuzu UTE A-League season. But the sea of navy blue in the stands at AAMI Park, mixed with the on-field resilience shown by their team on the park showed head coach Popovic how far his side have come since the darkest of days suffered last season.
“It was a real derby,” Popovic said post-match.
“We wanted to bring that back obviously after last year when it really wasn’t a contest.
“We made it a contest today. We brought the passion back on the field, and (with) the fans as well it felt like Melbourne Victory was back today and competed well.”
‘It comes down to culture’: Mariners’ togetherness exposes Wanderers flaws
Western Sydney Wanderers’ apparent lack of direction under head coach Carl Robinson could not have been more clear on Saturday afternoon as the Mariners – both motivated and self-assured – taught the Wanderers lessons in patience, creativity and work rate in an impressive win by the Gosford side.
MATCH REPORT: Mariners pile more misery on Wanderers
Paramount+ football analyst Luke Wilkshere watched on as the Wanderers lost 2-0 for the second game in succession and questioned where the urgency was for Robinson’s side to alter its current momentum.
“I know Central Coast were very compact and it was difficult, but (the Wanderers) need that pace, you need that energy, you need that little spark which was lacking,” Wilkshire said post-match.
“It was one-paced at times, we didn’t see that real change of pace in that front third.
“Even going a goal down, we didn’t see the reaction you’d want to see in a team who’s going to dominate and get back into the game.
“They’ve got the players, but there does seem to be a lack of idea in the front third. we saw a lot of the balls getting whipped in without any joy, we didn’t see enough freedom and spark. When you get in the front third you want your attacking players to feel free to go and create.
“We didn’t see that, it was a bit too rigid and one-paced, and when you’ve got a good defensive setup like the Mariners it’s hard to score.”
Former Wanderers defender Tarek Elrich watched on from the Paramount+ studio as his old side struggled to work cohesively to stem the tide of what is becoming a turgid run of form.
“James Troisi was starting to get frustrated because he’d get the ball in good areas, but there was no forward run,” Elrich said.
“(Tomer) Hemed got the ball I think (near) the penalty spot, holding his player up and played the ball to no one. Where’s the urgency to get forward?
“It was a frustrating night. You can hear it in the voices of players after the game when they spoke: they’re really hurting from this. And the longer it goes on, the harder it gets. You can say: ’We’re going to go work harder, train harder and turn things around’, but it’s always easier to say that.”
The Wanderers’ shortcomings were exposed by the Mariners on Saturday afternoon; a side brimming with local talent all pulling in the same direction under head coach and former Mariner Nick Montgomery.
Every week it’s an all-in mentality displayed by the Mariners which is getting points on the board, with the club’s ethos shining brightly through recent performances which have helped Montgomery’s team rise into fourth spot on the Isuzu UTE A-League table.
Off-season recruit Cy Goddard scored the first of two Mariners goals on Saturday afternoon, and club captain Ollie Bozanic settled the score with a stoppage time free-kick in his 100th game for the club.
“They just seem to have that unity,” Elrich said. “Look at that side, there’s no real big names, just a group of players that are willing to work hard for each other and have each other’s backs.
Wilkshire added: “You touched on that unity, you can see that. The way they work for each other, the extra yard they’ll go for one another, that’s massive. That’s credit to Nick Montgomery and the culture he set there, and the expectations in that Mariners side.
“It comes down to culture and the club having an identity. It’s a very clear vision and philosophy in the way they want to do things.”