Melbourne Victory and Ulsan Hyundai have fought out a thrilling 3-3 draw in their Asian Champions League opener at AAMI Park on Tuesday night.
The hosts were in control early with more than 70% of possession in the opening 20 minutes, but their dominance was fruitless with nobody offering an outlet for Terry Antonis’ movement between the lines. It would instead be Ulsan that provided a spark, as Jeong Jae-Yong’s strike from outside the area was juggled by Lawrence Thomas.
Victory were punished for their inactivity in possession, as Croatian midfielder Mislav Orsic struck from a dead ball to give the visitors the lead after 24 minutes. However, it was short-lived as Ulsan custodian Kim Yong-Dae tipped Besart Berisha’s opportunistic strike into the path of Leroy George, who ran the ball into the net.
This scenario would be replayed just 10 minutes later, with Austrian import Richard Windbichler capitalising on relaxed marking at a corner to nod Orsic’s cross in at the near post, before Berisha held up play deep in the area and passed off for George to thunder home a second with the break nearing.
A long range hit from Orsic sailed past a fully outstretched Thomas to put the Korean side into the lead for the third time, but the farce would continue as an unmarked Rhys Williams headed Victory back to parity, with George delivering a sublime ball over a cluster of defenders.
Melbourne had chances to score with substitutes Kenny Athiu and Christian Theoharous prominent in the final moments, but could not convert, and Kevin Muscat’s men will be disappointed to have dropped points at home.
Leroy George keeping Victory heads above water
Victory’s versatile left-winger has been a shining light throughout a disappointing season, assuming several attacking roles and providing for a side so reliant on scoring in transition and from set pieces.
His effort to follow up Berisha’s strike was rewarded with the early equaliser, he was released to score a second as Troisi pulled his marker away to the left, and he put the ball on a silver platter for Williams with Melbourne trailing again early in the second half.
Without the Dutch forward’s energy, ingenuity and ability to craft an opportunity with a dead ball, Victory’s Champions League campaign (and for that matter, their A-League finals hopes) may already be in tatters.
Lethargy in possession an ongoing theme under Muscat
The departure of Mark Milligan and the recruitment of Terry Antonis in January promised a more vibrant style from Melbourne Victory’s midfield, but the opening minutes of tonight’s clash exemplified the dull football that has characterised their season.
For 20 minutes Victory sat on the ball, with Antonis frustrated by the lack of run ahead of him and railroaded into turning the ball over in hope or passing back to Jason Geria and James Donachie, leaving forwards isolated by the lack of overlap run.
Partially attributable to Muscat’s failure to sign a genuine left-back after the departure of Daniel Georgievski, and to the inconsistency of Troisi’s efforts and a philosophy averse to risk in midfield – leaving the Victory struggling to break sides down without any gains on the defensive end.
Melbourne burn opportunity for early ascendancy
Ulsan Hyundai are out of season with the K-League set to resume next month, so this fixture presented an opportunity for the match-fit Victory to snare three points and start their ACL campaign off on the right foot.
Instead, they will go winless into away clashes with cashed-up Shanghai SIPG and J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale.
Travel is unlikely to intimidate Kevin Muscat’s side after drawing away to Gamba Osaka and Suwon Bluewings in the 2016 competition, but dropping points at home to a side currently removed from the weekly grind is undoubtedly a setback.