A vocal 15,014 crowd witnessed an entertaining yet controversial draw between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix, as the VAR came under fire once again.
After what had already been a tumultuous week for the VAR, it wasted little time in getting involved in this match – three minutes to be exact.
The intervention awarded the Phoenix a contentious early penalty after a Callum McCowatt’s corner struck Ola Toivonen’s arm at the front post.
The Swedish international falling victim to the adjustments made by IFAB, which penalises players if the ball hits arms extended beyond a natural silhouette position – accidental or not.
Ulises Davila made no mistake from the spot in front of a cauldron-like atmosphere as the Victory fans voiced their discontent as they fell behind just four minutes in.
Feeding off the AAMI Park crowd, the Victory got going.
Ola Toivonen skimmed the roof of the net with his set-piece just outside the box in the 10th minute, before Adama Traore would back the clock – launching a first-time strike which deflected out for a corner in the 12th minute.
The corresponding corner saw James Donachie’s head made perfect connection from the Jakob Poulson set-piece but was saved by Phoenix goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.
Traore would then find himself involved, albeit at the other end – diving in the way of a Davila left-footed attempt just outside the box in the 20th minute.
Toivonen then had his second attempt of the match – unable to curl his 22nd minute strike enough to guide into the bottom corner after a promising build-up from the Victory midfield.
Frustration began to build for the Victory, who struggled to break down a stubborn Phoenix defence.
Victory managed to break through in the 36th minute but were denied once again by Marinovic, with the Kiwi international sticking out a hand to keep Poulsen’s side-footed attempt out – with the Danish midfielder opting for placement over power.
The Phoenix took their lead into halftime and came out on the front foot, with David Ball played through on the counter but only managed to find Lawrence Thomas with his low attempt from the top of the six-yard box.
As for the Victory, it appeared they were finding new ways not to score as Toivonen saw his header from inside the six-yard box land half-metre wide in the 58th minute.
This was the Swede’s closest attempt yet, with Traore placing the ball perfectly on his head as the Victory saw another golden opportunity go begging.
It seemed the only way Victory would score would be if someone walked the ball in and that’s exactly what Toivonen did.
The Victory captain, as he has done this season, picked up his team with neat finish with the outside of his right boot after the ball deflected into his path inside the box, allowing the Swede to do as he does best in the 67th minute to equalise.
As the crowd stood up for the Victory as did the players, with Kamsoba finding Toivonen with a clever left-footed pass inside the box to set up the Swede, whose attempt was again saved by an acrobatic Marinovic in the 77th minute.
Toivonen would again come agonisingly close to giving his side the lead in the 80th minute when his low attempt – which seemed to roll for an eternity – drifted past the post, to the relief of Marinovic and the Phoenix.
Despite the Victory’s dominance, the Phoenix nearly pinched the three points as Alex Rufer forced Thomas into a challenging save after swinging an attempt from just inside the box on the left wing.
The Victory desperately tried to appeal for a handball in the box as the seconds ticked down, but were unable to convince the VAR of intervening.
A collective groan filled AAMI Park on the final whistle, as Victory fans felt they should have left with more than just a point.
The draw sees Wellington still without a win as they head into their first bye of the season, while the Victory travel to face Champions Sydney FC.
Featured Image: Hyundai A-League
Melbourne Victory 1 (Toivonen 66′)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Davila 4′)
Lawrence Thomas (GK), Storm Roux, James Donachie, Thomas Deng, Adama Traore, Jakob Poulsen, Leigh Broxham, Migjen Basha (Anthony Lesiotis 94′), Elvis Kamsoba, Ola Toivonen (C), Kenny Athiu (Kristijan Dobras 85′ )
Corey Brown, Joshua Hope, Ben Carrigan, Brandon Lauton, Brendan White
Stefan Marinovic (GK), Tim Payne, Luke De Vere, Steven Taylor, Liberato Cacace, Ulises Davila (Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi 78′), Matti Steinmann, Alex Rufer, Jaushua Sotirio, Callum McCowatt, (Cameron Devlin 76′) David Ball,
Reno Piscopo, Oliver Sail, Ben Waine, Sam Sutton