A ten-man Melbourne Victory has held the in-form Wellington Phoenix to a scoreless draw in a fiery affair at AAMI Park.
Despite there not being any goals, there was plenty of feeling in this contest with ten yellow cards issued in front of a cauldron-like atmosphere in Melbourne.
After a month on the sidelines, Kristijan Dobras’ return was not a memorable one as the Austrian midfielder was sent off for a controversial high-boot on Cameron Devlin in the 60th minute.
Already sitting on a booking for a 48th minute challenge, referee Stephen Lucas sent Dobras off with a straight red card – which will see the Austrian miss at least three rounds – with the incident not reviewing by the VAR.
Though the sending off was only the tip of the iceberg as the referee issued nine more bookings throughout a tie filled to the brink with stoppages.
Alex Rufer was left out of the side for the Phoenix– still nursing a knee-injury he picked up in last week’s win over the Western Sydney Wanderers – which saw Cameron Devlin make his starting debut.
In need of points ahead of a busy Christmas period, captain Ola Toivonen stepped to the plate – nearly giving his side the lead in the 17th minute after a slow start.
The Swedish international read a looped ball into the box better than anyone, bringing it down with his chest before firing a half-volley, albeit at the perfect height for the in-form Stefan Marinovic who made an impressive save.
Robbie Kruse was next to step up – playing a one-two with Toivonen after weaving out of traffic, only to see his left-footed attempt deflected for a corner in the 20th minute.
A late James Donachie challenge on David Ball sparked a mini-brawl in the 30th minute – after Phoenix players took exception to the tackle – which saw Matti Steinmann booked alongside Donachie.
On the field, Ulises Davila forced Lawrence Thomas into an awkward save, attempting to catch the Victory goalkeeper off his line with an audacious chip from the edge of the area in the 38th minute.
On the back foot for the majority of the opening half, the Victory took some momentum heading into the break after Dobras and Toivonen came close to opening the scoring.
Finding space just outside the box, Dobras saw his 45th minute curled attempt strike the post – in what would have been the Austrian’s second goal for his new club.
The home fans meanwhile pulled out their smart phones when Toivonen stood over a stoppage time set-piece, but the Swedish international could only find the side-netting – letting the visitors off the hook as the referee blew for half-time.
It only took four minutes after the break for the ball to strike the woodwork for a second time, with Luke Devere’s header from a 52nd minute Reno Priscopo corner bouncing off the crossbar and onto the goal-line, before Steinmann’s follow through sailed into the Victory active area.
Dobras’ sending off on the hour mark exacerbated the tension between the two sides, as the AAMI Park crowd found its voice and did not hide its frustration towards the events transpiring.
Spurred on by the home fans, the Victory surged forward in the 84th minute but were unable to snatch a late goal as Toivonen saw another opportunity fly over the cross-bar.
The result sees the two sides share the points for the fifth time in their last six matches.
Melbourne Victory – 0
Wellington Phoenix – 0
Lawrence Thomas (GK), Adama Traore, James Donachie, Leigh Broxham, Anthony Lesiotis, Migden Basha (Jay Barnett 75′), Jakob Poulsen, Kristijan Dobras, Robbie Kruse (Storm Roux 93′), Ola Toivonen (C), Andrew Nabbout ( Elvis Kamsoba 87′)
Brandon White, Corey Brown, Ben Carrigan, Brandon Lauton,
Stefan Marinovic (GK), Tim Payne, Steven Taylor (C), Luke DeVere, Liberato Cacace, Cameron Devlin, Matti Steinmann ( Ben Waine 87′), Ulises Davila, Jaushua Sotirio (Cameron McCowatt 81′), David Ball, Reno Piscopo (Gary Hooper 69′)
Jake McGing, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Oliver Sail