Melbourne Victory and the Central Coast Mariners drewthree-all in an extraordinary Round Eleven match in the A-League at Telstra Dome last night in front of 28,118 fans.
Victory got the best possible start when Archie Thompson skinned Vuko Tomasevic out on the right wing and his cross found Daniel Allsopp in the goal area for a decisive header in the fourth minute.
The Victory and its fans hardly had time to celebrate before the Mariners hit back with a carbon copy goal.
Former South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights star and Australia’s all-time national league top scorer Damian Mori got away on the Mariners’ right wing and his cross was hammered home by Jamie McMaster in the 6th minute.
Back came Victory and Allsopp found Thompson just on the half-way line and the Socceroo outstripped the chasing defence and chipped the ball neatly over keeper Daniel Vukovic.
That was in ten minutes, and two minutes later the Mariners were level again with another move down the right. Two defenders failed to clear and Damian Mori set up Stewart Petrie for a second equaliser.
There was hardly time to catch breath before the Mariners took the lead.
Adam Kwasnik’s header was creeping in at the near post when Rodrigo Vargas tried to head it clear.
That proved to be insufficient and in a reflex action he helped it on its way with his hand.
The result was a red card for Vargas and a penalty for the Mariners, which Kwasnik himself drove into the net.
Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick took off midfielder Adrian Caceres to allow Steve Pantelidis to come on to shore up the defence, but both teams continued to attack as if their lives depended on it.
Five minutes before half time Kevin Muscat forced his way past two defenders and put over an inviting cross which Brazilian Fred struck straight at the keeper in the closest the Victory got to drawing level in a see-sawing match.
Skipper Muscat then tangled with Jamie McMaster off the ball but right in front of the referee.
He had already been booked for an incident with McMaster so this time he received a red card and the Victory was down to nine men.
In the second half the Mariners used their two-man advantage to stretch the Victory, but Archie Thompson caused panic with two sharp crosses the second of which was hacked over his own crossbar by a confused Alex Wilkinson.
After Stewart Petrie stretched Victory keeper Michael Theoklitos with a shot, the Victory lifted as Allsopp won a hard ball in midfield and fed Thompson.
In turn his shot struck Vukovic’s foot as he dived and ballooned out to Grant Brebner whose return header landed on top of the net as the keeper scrambled back.
Following a couple of substitutions Victory had two Brazilian wing-backs and Kristian Sarkies came on as pinch-hitter to take a free kick which laid out Stewart Petrie.
It was football but not as you know it.
The home crowd gave its nine battlers tremendous support throughout, with chants and counter-cheers from both ends of the ground.
Fred went on one of his mesmerising runs and rounded the keeper but as the goal gaped he pulled his shot into the side netting in the 80th minute.
Then in the 86th minute came the reward the Victory deserved when Sarkies and Fred combined with the latter going on another mazy circuit which ended with a cross driven home with aplomb by Daniel Allsopp.
Three-all after 94 pulsating minutes and what an advertisement for the game.