Flattened: Heart's David Williams sits dejected after Archie Thompson's winning goal. Photo: Getty Images
IT WAS fiery, feisty, a real Christmas cracker of a game offering up many talking points and questions about the future for both teams.
Melbourne Heart boss John Aloisi felt his side had the better of the derby clash and should have got at least a draw, while Victory assistant coach Kevin Muscat believed his team controlled possession and much of the game.
Muscat argues that its last-gasp success, courtesy of Archie Thompson's 93rd-minute winner, speaks volumes about Victory's commitment and the attitude that has been inculcated by coach Ange Postecoglou.
Thompson, both after the match and at a news conference on Sunday, admitted the red-and-whites had the better chances and conceded that perhaps they did have more of the game. But, he emphasised, it was his team's mindset and self-belief that allowed it to snatch a memorable triumph.
The goal came in dramatic fashion, the ball striking the cross bar and bouncing down over the line, right at the end of a game played in a marvellous atmosphere that surely reminds anyone who had any doubts that the Melbourne derby is the marquee fixture of the competition.
These are the sort of wins that can make or break a season. Victory will surely feel it can use this result, against a side that had hitherto had the better of their derby meetings, as a springboard to chase down the top two on the ladder, Central Coast and Adelaide, who both dropped points in the pre-Christmas round.
The Reds were smashed 6-1 by West Sydney, while the Mariners drew in Wellington. Victory is now five points behind the South Australians, seven behind the club from Gosford, but only one ahead of impressive new bos West Sydney.
In contrast, Heart is eight points adrift of its crosstown rival and languishing in eighth position on a ladder that, over the next couple of weeks, will probably start to break into more clearly defined groups.
For the Heart, the queries will come thick and fast. Its inability to convert its chances haunts it, and while it plays these derby games with a passion and commitment that cannot be questioned, it doesn't always manage to reach the same tempo when it takes on other clubs.
It must now regroup and relaunch a challenge in the second half of the season as another few losses will leave it, as Aloisi admitted, floundering too far from the top six to have much chance of a second-straight finals appearance.
While never a bruising encounter, nine players were booked - testimony to the passions and desperation evoked in a derby game where the ramifications are much greater than the three points at stake.
Aloisi will have to dig deep into the depths of his squad for the trip to Wellington on Thursday. Simon Colosimo and Patrick Gerhardt are both now suspended, meaning teenager David Vrankovic and mature-age Irish centre-half Steve Gray, who has yet to play for the club, will form a rookie central defensive partnership.
Thompson was in ebullient mood on Sunday as he described how delighted he and his teammates were to get one back for the Victory fans who have so often been on the wrong side of the derby score, especially after the 2-1 round-one defeat.
''There were 42,000 people there and we let them down,'' said Thompson, revealing that Postecoglou had used the memory of that evening's disappointment to motivate his players for the return game on Saturday.
Victory's winning goal was like a training drill, he said, with Adama Traore making an interception, passing to Marco Rojas, who fed him. He was just delighted that the Gosch's Paddock rehearsals paid off ''on the biggest stage of the season''.