Ten-man Victory battle back to grab point but still wait for first win

Melbourne Victory battled back from being a man down for over an hour and a goal down shortly thereafter - as well as goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas saving a first half penalty - to grab a point in a 1-1 draw with Western Sydney Wanderers in the Melbourne Cup Eve clash at Etihad Stadium.

It was a gutsy effort by the hosts, but the reality for Kevin Muscat's would-be title contenders is that they are still winless after five games of the new campaign with just three points out of 15, their worst start to a season.

Wanderers stand-in coach Hayden Foxe was on the sideline, but Western Sydney's players were acutely aware they were being watched by new boss Josep Gombau, who takes over before the Sydney side faces Melbourne City next weekend.

So it was hardly surprising that they began in sprightly fashion, Spaniard Oriel Riera signalling his intent early, playing a one-two with Mark Bridge before firing over as Wanderers made the early running.

Victory had the best chance to take an early lead after an interception in midfield by Carl Valeri, who robbed Alvaro Cejudo before releasing Leroy George. The Dutchman shot, and his effort was saved by Vedran Janjetovic, but a better option might have been to square a pass to the unmarked Jai Ingham.

The Wanderers settled into a groove and Victory played some excellent possession football with clever interplay but struggled to create more opportunities. Mitch Austin had a chance with a header from George's cross in the 19th minute, but the complexion of the match changed dramatically five minutes later.

Having already been booked, Austin didn't retreat quickly enough when Wanderers were awarded a free kick and impeded the taker, referee Peter Green flashing another yellow card and the wide man was off.

That left the hosts in a precarious position as Wanderers grew in confidence. Riera headed wide from a Brendan Hammill cross, and the visitors got their noses in front shortly after the half-hour mark through a goal that showcased their passing abilities but hardly flattered the Victory defence.

Full back Raul Llorente exchanged passes with Cejudo on the left and got to the byline before flighting a cross to the middle. Riera found himself unmarked and headed home.

Wanderers had a great chance to double their advantage 10 minutes later when Jumpai Kusukami's run into the penalty area was ended by a Rhys Williams challenge.

Green pointed to the penalty spot, but there was then a farcical delay of several minutes while the Video Assistant Referees were brought into play to determine whether Williams needed to be shown a yellow card.

Eventually Riera, whose nerves cannot have been helped by the time he had to wait, stepped up to take the spot kick only to see Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas guess directly, dive to his right and deflect the ball to safety.

Such lengthy delays are becoming a problem in the early days of the VAR and will need to be sorted out, and quickly. In this particular situation, with the pressure mounting on the penalty taker, it was the team who had committed the foul that got the advantage - surely not something authorities intended.

Wanderers could have doubled their advantage twice in the opening two minutes of the second period, first when Kearyn Baccus' through ball found Bridge, whose goalbound effort was well blocked by Thomas, and then when Cejudo floated his shot wide after being presented with a clear opportunity when Sanchez made a dreadful hash of trying to clear Kusukami's cross.

They paid dearly for their profligacy soon after when young defender Thomas Deng brought Victory level with the first goal of his A-League career.

The equaliser owed much to the excellence of George's delivery, the Dutchman floating a wonderful free kick into the danger zone for Deng to react first and get his head to the ball, sending it past Janjetovic via the post.

Roley Bonevacia came close for the Wanderers in the 60th minute, forcing Thomas into a good save as the keeper deflected the ball on to a post but the visitors struggled to capitalise on their numerical advantage.

Victory boss Kevin Muscat gave an A-League debut to gangling front man Kenjok "Kenny" Athiu with some 19 minutes remaining, but neither the new striker nor any of his team-mates could find the goal to fashion what would have been an unlikely win.

MELBOURNE VICTORY 1 (Thomas Deng 49m) drew WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS 1 (Oriol Riera 32m) at Etihad Stadium. Crowd: 21,577. Referee: Peter Green.

This story Ten-man Victory battle back to grab point but still wait for first win first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.