Melbourne Victory have remarkably snatched an away point in the Asian Champions League, levelling the ledger in the 92nd minute via a Leroy George penalty in a 2-2 draw against Kawasaki Frontale.
Kawasaki raced out of the blocks and the pressure eventually told in the 28th minute, with right-back Elsinho smashing a first-time drive beyond Lawrence Thomas. Victory had been unable to adequately clear their lines.
James Troisi, George and Kosta Barbarouses combined to produce Victory’s best move of the game in the 36th minute, but Shota Arai denied the Kiwi’s final touch.
However, Besart Berisha made sufficient enough contact from the ensuing corner to help the ball trickle into the back of the net off defender Shintaro Kurumaya.
Some 10 minutes after the interval, Victory were made to look like witches hats at the back. Yu Kobayashi drifted out to the right and teed up Kyohei Noborizato, who tapped home unmarked.
But there was to be one final twist right at the death. Substitute Christian Theoharous burst into the penalty area and was fouled, sending Victory to the penalty spot.
With Berisha off the field, George stepped up and converted, though not without some minor heart palpitations as Arai got a paw on the penalty kick.
Kawasaki staring up at the rest
A draw really helps neither team – both fighting it out in the lower half of the group – but does make sure Victory are not bottom of the group and still have some life left in the Champions League campaign.
The big positive now for Victory is that they have cleared off arguably the two toughest away trips in the group, against rampaging Shanghai SIPG and Kawasaki.
Two home games against those sides will give them some kind of hope that they can push for six points, a total which will take them to eight, not accounting for an away trip to South Korea to face Ulsan, and that could be enough for progression.
So too will their performance on the night against the J-League champions, pinching the point in seemingly helpless circumstances when much of the momentum was headed in the opposite direction..
Victory will be hopeful attacking powerhouse SIPG can defeat Ulsan, a result that would put the Chinese side just about out of reach with Horang-i still in the ruck.
Victory’s barren run continues
Something has got to give eventually… right? Not for the time being, at least.
Victory are still without a win on the road in Asia, a miserable record that stretches across six attempts at the Champions League, including this one. In total, that is 17 away trips without claiming three points; seven draws and 10 defeats.
This time around, Kevin Muscat’s team can be content – not delighted, but content – with a hard-earned point in Japan, one which seemed nothing more than a pipe dream for much of the contest, and indeed the final 10 minutes.
Kawasaki were the better side for virtually the entire match, yet Victory were able to find a way to steal a potentially valuable result.
Muscat rolls the dice – and it pays off
The still under-pressure Victory coach has copped plenty of criticism for his attitude towards substitutions – or in many instances, a lack thereof – but it paid off in Wednesday’s match.
Muscat threw on Josh Hope, Kenny Athiu and Theoharous, and it was the lattermost player whose impact was most telling.
He won the penalty with an opportunistic burst into the penalty area, on which George capitalised.