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Amazing A-League must bring fans back into stadiums

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Expert
28th February, 2021
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Western United’s 4-3 win over Melbourne Victory was the exclamation point on an increasingly plausible meme – that the A-League is the world’s most entertaining competition right now.

When Victor Sanchez rifled home his second goal deep into stoppage time at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night he not only sent coach Mark Rudan tearing off towards a mass pile-on of players and staff, he also lit the touchpaper on a rivalry that only has room to grow.

How much will that defeat have stung Melbourne Victory? They were barely hanging on until Western United defender Tomi Uskok was dismissed for a second yellow card not long after the hour mark.

Full credit to Victory and in particular the impressive Dalibor Markovic for setting up Rudy Gestede’s improbable equaliser. The towering Benin international could have been forgiven for dropping his head after Filip Kurto’s outrageous earlier save.

But if the A-League has been a bit short on narratives in the past, the unlikeliest player on the pitch set about rectifying that with a winner that drove a dagger through Victory hearts.

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Victor Sanchez doesn’t say much, but he certainly knows how to play football.

The 240-game former Espanyol veteran scored Western United’s first with a superbly taken goal, side-stepping a diving Leigh Broxham before rifling into the bottom corner.

It was an expert finish from a player who does everything with a minimum of fuss, but Sanchez saved his best for last by smashing home the winner for good measure.

The goal was a bit of a calamity for Victory goalkeeper Max Crocombe, who came but failed to deal with Tomoki Imai’s cross, allowing Sanchez to nip in and bag the winner.

How much pressure is Crocombe under? Is he the right goalkeeper for a club of Victory’s stature?

Even allowing for Sanchez’s double, it was still the player the rest of the A-League loves to hate who dragged Western United back into the game.

There’s a case to be made that Besart Berisha is the greatest striker the A-League has ever seen, and the competition’s all-time top scorer reminded his former club of that with a quickfire brace.

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Besart Berisha

(Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Berisha’s two headers were slightly atypical goals for the combustible striker, but he essentially scored them through sheer force of will.

That’s something the A-League could use a bit more of over the coming weeks.

Western United’s win wasn’t the only eye-opening result on another crazy weekend of football, with Perth Glory downing Brisbane Roar 3-1 in the west and Adelaide United shaking off their travel woes with a 3-2 win over Western Sydney Wanderers in Parramatta.

But as we’ve seen with the sort of stewarding Victorian fans have recently had to put up with – where there seems to be one COVID-related rule for A-League fans and a different rule for other members of the public – football still suffers from the kind of prejudice that causes mainstream Australians to dismiss it as irrelevant.

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And while A-League clubs shouldn’t bother trying to convert casual sports fans with no interest in the game, one thing they will need to start thinking about again soon – particularly once COVID-19 vaccines start rolling out – is selling a few more tickets to games.

Brisbane Roar have a decent chance to sell out Moreton Daily Stadium when they take on Sydney FC next Saturday, even if coming off a loss – just like the Sky Blues – makes things a bit more difficult.

And when Western United finally run out at their new stadium in Tarneit, hopefully life will be somewhat back to normal following this infernal pandemic.

Because as wonderful as it has been to watch the A-League come roaring back to life, it will all be irrelevant without some sort of base to build on for the future.

Western United are building one. Here’s hoping they’re not the only ones.