Gutsy win boosts Victory ACL hopes
Melbourne Victory kept their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League alive after they accounted for Group E leaders Tianjin Teda at Docklands.
Melbourne Victory kept their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League alive after they accounted for Group E leaders Tianjin Teda 2-1 at Docklands on Wednesday night.
Victory are now within touching distance of second place and should they win the penultimate group stage match against Gamba Osaka at home in two weeks, will be well-placed to get through.
Both sides carved out few chances in the opening half hour given the wet playing conditions after the Chinese side demanded the roof remain open amid heavy rain in Melbourne.
The heated, physical affair saw with ten yellow cards and a red card handed out between the two sides.
Melbourne, despite enjoying the lion's share of possession and notching a few half chances on the Tianjin goal, fell behind 37 minutes into the game via an uncharacteristic Kevin Muscat error.
The pressing Zhang Xiaobin, who pickpocketed the ball off Muscat, surged forward casually and sliced a low, clean shot from the edge of the box that glanced beyond Tando Velaphi's reach.
The goal seemed the knock the wind of the home side's sails, but the circumstances that transpired shortly after helped the tie swing firmly in Melbourne's favour.
Tianjin began the encounter without their influential skipper and defensive lynchpin Marko Zoric then lost their other centre-back, Weifeng Li, and ultimately their defensive solidity - which was exploited adeptly by the Aussie outfit.
And it was Carlos Hernandez who was again Melbourne's saviour.
The Costa Rican spun a 40th minute free-kick that evaded everybody in the box, including onrushing Victory captain Adrian Leijer whose foiling of his marker allowed the ball to fly into the net unexpectedly.
With the momentum firmly in the favour, and Robbie Kruse shifting to the left after a relatively subdued open 40 minutes on the right, Victory managed to double their lead and turn the game.
The outgoing Kruse was instrumental in winning the spot kick with his movement causing difficulties for Yang Cao.
Archie Thompson's through-ball fell to Kruse, who was subsequently shoved to the turf by Yang on the cusp of half time.
Up stepped Kevin Muscat, who atoned for his earlier error, and the former captain made no mistake from the spot to send Zhao the wrong way and his side in a commanding position heading into the break.
The second half produced few solid chances for both sides but it was notable Kruse's injury, which soured the result, with the Germany-bound striker appearing to have hurt his knee.
New Victory signing Isaka Cernak squandered a glorious chance to extend Melbourne's lead in the 48th minute while right-back Matthew Foschini did well to prevent Tianjin's Li Benjian from a sight on goal.
The Chinese side sent on tall Argentine Luciano Olguín in the 72th minute as it looked to add some height to its attack but their late advances on goal prove fruitless as the Victory hung on to record a precious result.
Melbourne Victory 2 (Hernandez 44, Muscat 45+) Tianjin Teda 1 (Tao 37)