Spoils shared in high-scoring Big Blue

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A-League football returned to eastern Sydney after the Asian Cup break as Sydney FC drew 3-3 with Melbourne Victory in a chaotic match at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.

A lot is changing at Sydney FC – the Cove has moved ends, for one, and there are two “SUPER SCREENS COMING MARCH”, according to the writing on the scaffolding at either end of the ground – and Graham Arnold arrived back at Allianz Stadium for the first time this year hoping that the change stopped with some seriously big screens, as his side looked to maintain an unbeaten record that stretched back into late 2014.

After a typically frenzied start, Sydney was first to settle into a rhythm and capitalised after just seven minutes when Victory fullback Jason Geria stepped clumsily across Christopher Naumoff as he broke towards Nathan Coe’s goal, with referee Strebe Delovski awarding a penalty. Mark Janko continued his goalscoring run with his fourth in three games, placing the ball coolly past Coe to give Sydney a deserved lead.

The goal awakened the Victory and they looked to disturb the relative comfort Sydney had afforded themselves after going in front.

Besart Berisha had a shot which deflected off a Sydney body in front of goal and sailed threateningly over Vedran Janjetovic, but the goalkeeper was alive to the danger and moved sharply to save.

The home crowd was getting its first look at new recruit Mickael Tavares – Sydney having played their previous two matches away in Gosford and Perth since his signing in early January – and he was impressive as Sydney controlled the tempo of the game, often falling back in between the two central defenders and dictating play from deep.

With 10 minutes remaining in the half, the game changed from its relatively calm state; Kosta Barbarouses, stumbling past one Sydney player in midfield, drew an advantage from the referee and, after playing a one-two with Berisha, pushed through to the top of the box, cut back across Sebastian Ryall and poked a shot towards the far post with the outside of his foot to draw his side level.
Five minutes later, Melbourne completed the turnaround.

Driving through the Sydney midfield, Barbarouses took the defenders in front of him out of play by dropping his shoulder and squaring a pass to an unmarked Gui Finkler, who picked up the ball on the run and buried a shot into the bottom left corner of Janjetovic’s goal.

Sydney kicked off again and gave up possession almost immediately. With halftime approaching, the momentum was clearly with the visitors.

Play resumed slowly after the break with Sydney now chasing a lead and Melbourne suddenly finding themselves in the rather more enviable position of having to defend one.

Barbarouses teased Sydney’s defence as he drifted in from the right and Sydney found room to move forward down the left through Alex Gersbach, who played fruitless balls across the penalty box from wide as Janko and Brosque lagged behind Victory defenders.

Sydney, now, was pressing harder and looked more likely to score the game’s next goal, though it came in Mark Bosnich rant-inducing circumstances as Sebastien Ryall tripped on nothing behind Gui Finkler, and Delovski pointed to the spot.

Shane Smeltz, having replaced Janko up front, stepped up to the ball and scored a relaxed penalty before charging across to celebrate in front of an exploding Cove.

Melbourne went back in front shortly after Smeltz’s goal – justifiably, after the penalty decision up the other end – as Nicolas Ansell arrived late to a corner to smash a clean header down the centre of the goal.

On the touchline, Kevin Muscat spun around and bellowed something into the crowd. Up near halfway, Berisha was being pulled away from a fracas (does that word get used anywhere else but sports writing?) that one can only assume he started himself.

It was a match that probably should have ended here, in a Melbourne Victory win – some might wonder whether a win for Kevin Muscat is ever a win for football, but at least this one would’ve deserved. Fate rather cruelly intervened in Sydney’s favour, however, and with time slipping away Smeltz met a cross to sneak a looping header past a scrambling Coe, equalising for his side again.

Sydney is at home again next week against the Central Coast Mariners and will hope to improve on their performance here as they look to cement their place ahead of the Brisbane Roar in the top six.

Melbourne Victory will head north to Suncorp Stadium to take on Brisbane; the home side will be wary of Melbourne City behind them on the table and doubtlessly eager to remind the competition that they’re not completely irrelevant.

Sydney FC starting XI: Janjetovic (GK), Ryall, Jurman, Calver, Gersbach, Tavares, Dimitrijevic, Naumoff, Ibini, Brosque (C), Janko

Sydney FC substitutes: Necevski, Smeltz, Antonis, Grant, Stambolziev

Melbourne Victory starting XI: Coe (GK), Geria, Ansell, Leijer, Galloway, Valeri, Milligan (C), Barbarouses, Finkler, Ben Khallafah, Berisha

Melbourne Victory substitutes: Broxham, Thompson, Nabbout, Mahazi, Thomas

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