Some games are so compelling, so captivating and so intense that it is physically exhausting to watch, never mind play in them.
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Thrust and counter-thrust, attack and counterattack, punch and counterpunch, no quarter asked, certainly none given. The final Melbourne derby of the regular season was one of those games, so captivating that you couldn't take your eyes off it for a second.
And it was in the end fitting that such a hugely entertaining game, which also had the controversy of a clear goal not being awarded and a late red card ended in a 2-2 draw.
The result keeps both teams locked together on the league table disputing third position, six points behind leaders Brisbane.
If you did turn away you might have missed a thundering challenge, a slinky piece of skill, a deft header, a slick breakaway move — and goals, and bookings and the eventual sending off — for the second time in two appearances, of Caceres.
More than anything, however, this game was memorable for some Bruno Fornaroli magic.
The impact the Uruguayan has had on the A-League has been enormous, The impact he has had on Melbourne City has been even greater .
The frontman provides a focus for John van 't Schip's team in forward areas, but he is more than just a poacher of goals, something he excels at. He works hard, he presses from the front and, crucially, his movement and passing brings his teammates into the game.
And he makes things happen, as his two first-half goals once more illustrated, the first a wonderfully dinked opener from a move he began with an audacious rabona flick in the centre of the pitch, the second a glancing header when he got in between three Victory defenders to restore his team's lead after a fantastic chip from Fahid Ben Khalfallah had levelled things.
Victory held sway early in an opening 15-minute period in which four players — Ivan Franjic, Ben Garrucio and Adrian Caceres from City and Kosta Barbarouses from Victory — went into Chris Beath's notebook, an indicator of the helter-skelter nature of the contest and a measure of what was at stake in the fight for a spot in the A-League's top three.
Van 't Schip had left out Socceroo left-back Michael Zullo, preferring Garuccio in a revamped defence in which the Dutchman ditched the back three he has been employing for much of the season to accommodate new signing Alex Wilkinson in a more traditional back four, the Socceroo centre-half playing alongside captain Paddy Kisnorbo.
Barbarouses went down early under a Kisnorbo challenge but Beath waved away appeals for a penalty as Victory continued to pile on the pressure and tried to impose themselves on their hosts.
Kisnorbo, City's warhorse, was clearly determined to let Besart Berisha know he was there and he put in a number of tough challenges.
Gui Finkler who was Victory's chief creative outlet, had the best chance for his side in the 20th minute after some excellent approach work down the left, lofting Ben Khalfallah's pass just over Thomas Sorensen's bar.
But it was City who made the breakthrough just two minutes later, thanks to some exquisite work by Fornaroli. He won the ball in the middle of the field, shrugged off challenges from Leigh Broxham and Jason Geria before flicking a rabona pass to Caceres.
The midfielder laid the ball to Aaron Mooy; Fornaroli had kept on running, and Mooy slid the ball to his teammate, who had the presence of mind to simply chip over the advancing Danny Vukovic.
Victory was back on level terms six minutes later with a tremendous goal from a counterattack sparked by Berisha. He found Finkler who delivered a tremendous pass to Barbarouses. The Kiwi striker opted to shoot rather than round Sorensen and the Dane made a terrific block. But Ben Khalfallah reacted quickest and got to the rebound first, chipping the ball home from outside the penalty area.
Parity did not last long however, as Fornaroli struck again three minutes later this time with his head. He is not overly tall, but the Uruguayan has a great sense of timing and he got in between the entire Victory defence to nod past Vukovic.
This was never the sort of game to stay locked at the same scoreline for too long, and within two minutes of the restart Victory had clawed itself back into the match again.
Finkler, with an unlikely header that he knew little about, did the damage, getting to Oliver Bozanic's scuffed shot after City had cleared an early second-half corner. The Brazilian is better known for his dead-ball skills but he reacted quickly as the ball bounced close to goal, getting there just before Sorensen. The fact that he didn't seem to realise at first that the ball had gone into the net tells all about his aerial prowess.
Finkler, who was having a terrific game, came much closer in the 54th minute with a superb free-kick after Kisnorbo was penalised for a foul on the edge of the box. The ball beat the wall and Sorensen but hit the bar and bounced down: replays showed the ball had crossed the line but Beath waved play on and then gave City a free kick for a foul on the goalkeeper.
The game continued at a frenzied pace but honours, in the end, were even in a game that will live long in the memory.
|*Western Sydney Wanderers||18||10||4||4||30||20||10||34|
|*Central Coast Mariners||18||3||3||12||23||42||-19||12|
* denotes teams yet to play
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