Talking points: Victory's belief may strengthen despite derby impasse
It is some rare feat for a Hyundai A-League club to muster a single shot on goal in 90 minutes yet emerge with belief hardened and reputation enhanced.
This curious feat was achieved when 10-man Melbourne Victory clawed out a 1-1 stalemate with rivals Melbourne City in Saturday evening’s Melbourne Derby.
All the while, Kevin Muscat’s side might just sense the Premiers Plate slipping further away after the weekend’s impasse.
But despite Perth maintaining their nine-point buffer and Victory dropping into third, you just can’t rule the four-time Champions out of any conversation which may discuss silverware.
Indeed, this is a club that often thrives when conditions turn adverse and a siege mentality is embraced, and it was the route Victory took to clinch last season’s Grand Final.
The stubborn resilience which bolstered that charge to the title was invoked again on the Derby stage following Georg Niedermeier 15th minute dismissal.
However, rather than dig their heels in further at half-time, Muscat sought to twist rather than stick.
In response, the Victory boss traded James Troisi for Ola Toivonen, and it was this intrepid substitution which sparked Kosta Barbarouses’ equaliser just five minutes later.
A cunning ploy from the 45-year-old taskmaster.
HEROIC MOMENTS: Wanderers veteran overshadows Popovic’s return to Western Sydney
WATCH FOR FREE: How to watch the Hyundai A-League LIVE and FREE
ANALYSIS: Victory show another string to bow in Derby draw
“The amount of courage and heart that we played with was really good, really nice to watch, really good to be involved in,” Muscat said after the game.
“Immediately after the break, we shifted things a little bit and (were) still going for the game.
“Still having two up top, two players in attack, comes with some risks without doubt, but when you've got a group of men that play with such desire and discipline, anything's possible.
Victory’s combination of attacking mentality and tactical discipline on show should boost Muscat’s men for the run home, even if Perth are overwhelming favourites to clinch the Premiership.
But it would be folly to discount the belief and momentum they may obtain from such a result.
Nerves set in across the country, Sydney emerge winners
The pressure of the run home is beginning to take its toll on the Hyundai A-League.
It was evident in the Melbourne Derby and showcased in Sunday’s clash in the Hunter Valley where Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets could not be separated.
Campbelltown Stadium was also burdened with a similar sense of concern as Wellington Phoenix hosted Sydney FC.
But if there’s one man impervious to pressure, it’s Adam Le Fondre.
Le Fondre thundered home his second penalty in as many weeks to edge the Sky Blues to a 1-0 triumph and move within eight points of Perth.
It was nervy and tense, but perhaps these are conditions that favour Steve Corica’s men. Four of Sydney’s last five victories have been by one-goalal margin.
Script flips for Popa’s homecoming
How fiercely Markus Babbel must have enjoyed Tarek Elrich’s late equaliser for Western Sydney Wanderers.
The German coach has been slapped in the face with his fair share of late heartbreak this campaign.
But for once, the Wanderers were on the receiving end as Elrich’s injury time strike stopped Perth Glory in their tracks on Sunday.
It is scant consolation for the Red and Black’s 4-3 capitulation against Glory in January, but will it have the same debilitating effect on Popovic’s league leaders?
Both Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC will have their fingers crossed that it does.
Game of the season?
In a Round hampered by high stakes, it was perhaps unsurprising that the match involving two teams playing for little but pride served the best entertainment.
And Friday’s eight-goal thriller between Central Coast Mariners and Brisbane Roar was entertainment at its best.
Roar’s 5-3 win included five goals scored in just 16 minutes – the same amount of goals scored in the rest of Round 20’s fixtures combined – and featured two candidates for goal of the season via Eric Bautheac and Alex Lopez.
It has been a disappointing campaign for both, but perhaps they are set to entertain now the shackles have been removed.