A moment of pure class from Ola Toivonen led Melbourne Victory to their third straight Big Blue Derby triumph over Sydney FC.
The 2017/18 Hyundai A-League Champions and 2017/18 Premiers matched each other punch for punch in a tightly-contested opening 20 minutes until a flash of dead-ball genius from the Swedish marquee striker tipped the content in the home side’s favour.
The Sky Blues forced their way back into the game in the second half but, against the run of play, another brilliant touch from Toivonen started a sweeping move which was finished off by James Troisi to double Victory's lead.
Steve Corica’s outfit refused to lie down and Milos Ninkovic’s determined charge ended with Sydney FC’s talisman firing them back into the game only five minutes later. The Sky Blues’ resistance did not relent as two efforts cannoned back off the frame of the goal in the closing stages of an absorbing contest.
ROUND 16: Williams strike and Kurto heroics lead Phoenix to tense win over City
ROUND 16: Taggart steals Brisbane a point in stunning injury-time heist
WATCH FOR FREE: How to watch the Hyundai A-League LIVE and FREE
With Victory having claimed the points in the 2018/19 Season’s first Big Blue, back in Round 5, Corica’s side appeared to set out their stall to frustrate the hosts at AAMI Park. Inspired by a vocal home crowd, Victory controlled the opening exchanges with some high-quality possession football at a fast tempo but Sydney FC’s intensity, and a few fierce challenges, nullified the Champions’ threat.
Kevin Muscat’s team had 78% of possession in the opening quarter hour but it took a moment of high-quality movement to force a gap in the well-drilled Sydney FC machine. Kosta Barbarouses swiftly combined with the dovetailing Terry Antonis and Troisi, and the latter was sandwiched by Josh Brillante and Brandon O’Neill’s rough challenge.
Toivonen stepped up to take the 25-yard free-kick and delivered a flash of outstanding individual skill to whip the ball into the top corner of the Sky Blues’ goal, leaving a diving Andrew Redmayne helpless in the 20th minute.
The goal seemed to encourage Sydney to grow into the game and take a few more risks. Milos Ninkovic showed impressive vision to release Adam Le Fondre on 33 minutes but the English striker strayed marginally offside. O’Neill had a sight of goal from a free-kick at similar range to Toivonen’s – but the Sky Blue midfielder couldn’t add the same level of precision.
Corica sent the Sky Blues out with even more attacking impetus in the second half and just as the visitors were asserting themselves on the contest, Victory struck a second lethal blow. Toivonen intelligently spun past Ben Warland and released Raul Baena, who teed up Troisi to stroke the ball past Redmayne.
Sydney FC needed a fast response. Ninkovic, who had been the leading force driving the Sky Blues forward, poked the ball goal-wards and, when Thomas palmed the ball out, it was the Serbian who reacted fastest and added a composed finish only five minutes after Troisi’s strike.
The pressure continued to build with wave after wave of Sky Blue attacks keeping the heat on Victory. Often the architect, Ninkovic fed Michael Zullo to cross and Le Fondre’s deft, looping header crashed back off the crossbar on 79 minutes.
As much as Sydney toiled, Victory offered the same intensity to defend their lead. Eighteen-year-old substitute Luke Ivanovic almost wrote his name up in lights at the death but his low drive rattled the post as Victory leapfrogged their Big Blue rivals into second place on the Hyundai A-League ladder.