Melbourne Victory stage wild 3-3 draw with Ulsan

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    It was a match for which there had been little marketing, played – as a result – in front of a smattering of spectators, opening a continental campaign that holds little promise of any meaningful progression, let alone triumph.

    It’s hardly a match you’d expect could act as the saving squall, carrying a team out of the deathly doldrums.

    Still, you have to work with what you’ve got, and a daunting home tie against Korean power Ulsan Hyundai is what the Melbourne Victory had last night.

    On a three-match losing streak, including losses to two of the four teams ahead of them on the table, this fixture had been looming over Melbourne for some time.

    The Victory hoped for a run-up to this tie that built up confidence; instead they suffered through a run that demoralised and disappointed. 

    James Troisi was returned to the starting XI, and Kevin Muscat’s team began the match brightly, with no sign of the reckless brand of hysterical, lurching pressing that had undone them so against Sydney.

    Jason Geria was prudently surging, Carl Valeri shuffling responsibly across the midfield line. Nearly 70 per cent of the possession in the opening 15 minutes belonged to the Victory, but it was possession largely starved of potent incision. Ulsan are a well-drilled, patient team, and played as such, seemingly content to allow Melbourne the ball in non-threatening areas. 

    The home side’s centre backs led with the knee in a couple of aerial skirmishes; the serrated physical aggression usually associated with Muscat’s side was roused a little here, with Ulsan’s striker Yohei Toyoda tenderised considerably.

    Valeri’s foul on a dashing midfielder continued the theme; Mislav Orsic’s strike from the free kick, however, was a sudden departure.

    A spanked shot from an audacious distance, that flew through a rippling crowd of players, beat Lawrence Thomas, fizzing just inside the post.

    Ulsan were in front, 1-0.

    But not for long, one minute and 12 seconds, to be precise.

    From the kick-off, Melbourne worked the ball forward, winning a throw deep in opposition territory. From that, the ball was shuffled to Troisi in the middle, and he attempted a sharp reverse through-ball, which found a defender – but his clearance was weak, straight to Besart Berisha, whose shot was parried.

    Besart Berisha Melbourne Victory A-League Grand Final 2017 tall

    Besart Berisha. (AAP Image/David Moir)

    Leroy George was there to tap home the rebound, an instant riposte.

    George was Vince Vega, his team were Mia Wallace, and that equaliser was the syringe of adrenaline driven through the sternum. Melbourne were suddenly sitting bolt upright, heaving great, wide-eyed lungfuls of air – not, in fact, hopelessly dead.

    Similarly, the match sprung into life, with the ball skipping from foot to foot, slick and stylish over the turf. Berisha and Kosta Barbarouses nearly carved a pleasing route into the box, but the ball was scrambled away.

    Hwang Il-Su scampered into the box, but screwed his shot wide. Then Ulsan won a corner, and Orsic stood over it, already a known threat from a dead ball. The Croatian’s cross swooped toward the near post, but none of the men in dark blue met the ball before Richard Windbichler, Ulsan’s Austrian centre back, whose forehead powered the ball past Thomas.

    It was a lazy moment of loose marking, and Victory were behind again. 

    But this lead, incredibly, lasted only a little longer than the last. A superb, tight one-two between Berisha and George saw the winger punch the ball into the striker, who held off his marker, laid off a perfectly weighted pass, which was met by George on the run in the box.

    He finished with sneering accuracy, and again things were level, 2-2.

    This match, having begun tautly, had ripped open, goals and chances flapping wildly from end to end. 30 minutes had barely passed, and Melbourne had already scored as many goals against Ulsan as they had against their three previous opponents. 

    Troisi, relieved of the sluggishness that has plagued so much of his season, was a roaming, forward-thinking spike, constantly looking for direct passes, playing them sharply and bursting through for a return pass. This is when the streaky Socceroo is at his best, when he’s fuelled by confidence and ambition, running with intent, causing urgent problems.

    Kevin Muscat

    Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

    The second half began with Barbarouses being shown a yellow for cutting down Park Joo-Ho. Evidently, Muscat had urged the importance of maintaining the intensity his team had shown in the first stanza, warts and all. Would it be the Victory who took the lead?

    No, it wouldn’t, and Orsic made sure of that with a superlative shot from distance, a curling effort that Thomas could only caress with the tips of his fingers before it found the top corner.

    Orsic, who grabbed a superb double against Brisbane last season in this competition, appears to have some acrid personal vendetta against the A-League. Whether or not Thomas might have done better was a debate worth staging, but the quality of the shot muffled the argument.

    Could Melbourne equalise quickly again? Somehow, yes.

    A free kick won out on the right was sent careering by George into the Ulsan box, three minutes after the visitors’ third goal. Rhys Williams met it utterly unmarked in the centre of the penalty area, and all that was needed to gift the game its third Melbourne equaliser was an elementary header. Williams obliged.

    Was this some garish Hollywood producer’s impression of how football should be? With Helenio Herrera spinning like a top in his grave, what could possibly come next, aside from goals, goals, and more goals?

    Ulsan hit the post, flirting with another lead. The hour mark had not yet been reached, and it was 3-3.

    Ten minutes passed, with no more goals, a veritable drought compared to the giddy haemorrhaging we’d had earlier. The intensity of the contest was still red-hot, with 25 fouls shared between the teams.

    Chances were exchanged, both sparked by venomous crosses from the left wings. Berisha was removed with 20 minutes remaining, the architect of two of his team’s goals. Kenny Athiu was brought on to impart his own brand of leggy athleticism, and he struck a wayward volley from distance within seconds of arriving, getting straight into the swing of things. 

    Victory nearly took the lead, failing to cap off a wonderful passing sequence – spanning the full width of the pitch – in which almost every Melbourne attacker was involved, though primarily Troisi, Athiu and George.

    Athiu was making a firm impression, striding away from tacklers, levering markers away from the ball, although his errant first touch was scuppering almost as many chances as he was creating.

    Valeri was conducting this beautifully in the middle, finding his attacking teammates, delivering the ball to them. Ulsan substitute Junior was sent clear through, but his first touch was awful too, with Thomas grateful for it.

    The match was pregnant with a seventh goal, but which team would bear it?

    But, like a clown show that ends with a particularly harrowing rendition of the suicide and funeral of Willy Loman, this caper indeed finished 3-3.

    Never mind a squall, this was a typhoon of agony and ecstasy that filled the Victory sails and sent it flying forwards.

    Berisha and Troisi looked as good here as they have the entire season. George was irrepressible. Williams ambitious without being reckless. They’d have taken a draw, but considering the nature of it, Melbourne might be disappointed they didn’t come out of this ding-dong battle on top.

    Yes, it was a sideshow, yes, there was no defence allowed, but it was a sensational start to what might end up being a compelling Champions League journey.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (41)

    • Roar Guru

      February 14th 2018 @ 7:56am
      Grobbelaar said | February 14th 2018 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      An entertaining game last night, Ulsan Hyundai was well served by Toyoda.

      Given their recent woes, Victory did well to attract 5,000 fans to the game last night.

      • February 14th 2018 @ 12:58pm
        Tommo said | February 14th 2018 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

        A smattering of spectators says the writer. Normal A League attendance.

        • February 14th 2018 @ 1:26pm
          chris said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

          Just too much football sometimes Tommo. So much to watch.

        • February 14th 2018 @ 1:35pm
          Nemesis said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          And, no acrobats, DJs, BMX Bike Tricks, Swimming Pools, etc etc.

          Just pure football.

          • February 14th 2018 @ 1:51pm
            Tommo said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

            No flares, player acting?

            • February 14th 2018 @ 2:02pm
              Nemesis said | February 14th 2018 @ 2:02pm | ! Report


              No players throwing themselves forward pretending they’ve been pushed in the back.
              No players throwing themselves backwards pretending an opponent is holding them.

              Just pure football.

              • February 14th 2018 @ 2:33pm
                chris said | February 14th 2018 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

                Tommo in all the football games youve been at how many acts of violence have you seen?

              • February 14th 2018 @ 2:35pm
                Nemesis said | February 14th 2018 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

                VicPol will never be out of a job as long as the Coward Punch Sport (AFL) & the Bogan Summer Sports (cricket & horse racing) are prominent in Melbourne.

                Spoke to a couple of the VicPol members at HT. They said being assigned to MVFC or City is the easiest overtime money they ever make.

                No drunkards.
                No bashings.
                No racist abuse directed at players, or stadium staff/security, or even VicPol members who are not white.

                They spent the whole game watching & huge applause from them when Rhys equalised for the 3rd.

              • February 14th 2018 @ 4:23pm
                valhalla said | February 14th 2018 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

                if this is true the soccerism movement needs to go all woodstock and ‘bring back the flares’

              • February 14th 2018 @ 6:59pm
                Kangajets said | February 14th 2018 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

                Valhalla : grobelaar: Perry bridge ; chopper

                What happened to you , to make you so n/sty ??
                We’re you not loved much ?

                It’s Valentine’s Day. Where your love for people

              • Roar Guru

                February 14th 2018 @ 7:55pm
                Grobbelaar said | February 14th 2018 @ 7:55pm | ! Report

                I think you will find that Woodstock pre-dates the flairs period by a few years

    • February 14th 2018 @ 9:11am
      mattq said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      pregnant for a seventh. classic.

    • February 14th 2018 @ 9:42am
      Nemesis said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      Ulsan scoring multiple goals is what I expected last night. MVFC scoring multiple goals was unexpected.

      Having watched MVFC in 5 previous ACL campaigns, the one obvious difference between ALeague and ACL is that the Asian opponents will be far more clinical with their finishing than ALeague opponents and will punish defensive lapses.

      This season, MVFC has created a benchmark for defensive lapses which get punished by local teams. So, it’s no surprise to see them concede regularly against the Asian opponent.

      Overall an uninspiring performance from MVFC – no system or plan & chaotic structure. Yet, the result was better than expected.

      Next match away to Shanghai SIPG will determine if we are extremely poor, or just poor.

      • February 14th 2018 @ 11:48am
        chris said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:48am | ! Report

        Nem their defensive lapses at times this season appear to be just a lack of concentration. They do concede some silly goals.
        Not a bad mid week crowd of over 8k considering its a work day etc.

    • Roar Guru

      February 14th 2018 @ 11:12am
      That A-League Fan said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:12am | ! Report

      It was a home game as well, unfortunately.

      • February 14th 2018 @ 11:25am
        Nemesis said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        I don’t understand. What does “it was a home game unfortunately” refer to?

    • Roar Rookie

      February 14th 2018 @ 11:25am
      At work said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

      Well done Victory for getting a result not expected by most and for fighting back each time you went behind.
      While I’m no keeper, and Bozza thought it was fine, I thought Thomas’ positioning for the free kick goal looked odd.

      Also Roar editors – Can you please start using photos which are relevant to the story?
      I’m pretty sure Berisha didn’t lose to Sydney last night at Allianz, so cant you use something related to the article… this goes for every Roar article too by the way.

      • February 14th 2018 @ 12:52pm
        Mark said | February 14th 2018 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

        Thomas’ keeping against free kicks is pretty ordinary. 3rd ACL game in a row he has conceded one.

      • February 14th 2018 @ 1:00pm
        Mark said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

        More generally, I was a bit disappointed by the result. Asian sides are always there for the taking in the first game when they’re still in pre-season, and Ulsan gave Victory plenty of chances. Unfortunately, Victory’s sloppiness cost them. However, it’s hardly the first time that has happened this year.

    • February 14th 2018 @ 12:15pm
      hogdriller said | February 14th 2018 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

      Didn’t expect 6 goals and certainly not 3-3, well done to MV coming back every time they went a goal down.

      Ulsan are a good team, no doubt and Orsic in particular but what went on when he was supposedly injured, ref told him to go to the sideline for treatment but he stayed on and the ref let him get away with it?

      Anyways, well done MV, good luck to Sydney tonight.

      • February 14th 2018 @ 1:18pm
        chris said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

        I’ll be going tonight. Its really hot at the moment in Sydney so that should suit Sydney you would think. Will be interesting to see how they line up without Jordy in the back 4

        • February 14th 2018 @ 3:48pm
          punter said | February 14th 2018 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

          Very interesting not going with Jordy, but hard not to play that front 3.

          • February 14th 2018 @ 7:31pm
            Kangajets said | February 14th 2018 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

            This in intriguing

            I know what Sydney do well, they attack with great cohesion and skill , they defend with great organisation and routine fouling of opponents.
            Will that work at home tonight against an opponent I have no idea about. I think yes they will win 3-1 , especially if they can get away with rotation of fouls .

            What I really hope to see is an open attack minded game like the Victory v Ulsan game last night .

            Will Graeme Arnold and his foulers brilliante and o Neill allow an open exciting game ??? I would love to see it . But with Sydney, it’s usually roughhouse rules , prove me wrong for a change Sydney and win some fans back to the A league, who love the beautiful game .

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