Nine-man Melbourne hold on
Nine-man Melbourne Victory have held defending Hyundai A-League champions Brisbane Roar to a 2-2 draw at Etihad Stadium in one of the bravest performances in the club's history.
From the opening minute, when keeper Ante Covic was sent off and conceded a penalty, the game looked lost for Melbourne, but remarkably they rallied to not only equalise, but take the lead through an Archie Thompson brace by the 21-minute mark.
However, in a game where all the significant action took place inside the first 36 minutes, Brisbane equalised and Melbourne lost another player when Matthew Foschini was shown a red card.
Despite Brisbane having almost complete control of possession for the final hour of the match, Melbourne defended to their back teeth, doing a brilliant job of claiming a point, with debutant keeper Lawrence Thomas one of the heroes.
It was a match which drew comparisons to the 3-3 draw with Central Coast Mariners in 2006, which many Victory fans attribute the club's famous resilience being born before their Grand Final success later that year.
Time will tell if history is to repeat, but there can be no questioning of the players' desire for the contest after fighting so valiantly to get a deserved point and becoming the first team this year to hold the defending champions.
They head to Gosford to take on the Mariners next week short on numbers after the two send offs, but high on confidence after their best game of the season to date.
It was a disastrous start to the game for Melbourne with a mistake by Adrian Leijer allowing Besart Berisha through one-on-one with Covic. The keeper's desperation to intervene saw him foul the Albanian and Ben Williams pointed to the spot and then produced a red card.
Thomas's first act as a Victory player was to pick the ball out of the back of the net, when Henrique converted, although the Brazilian was forced to re-take the spot-kick and after six minutes the score was 1-0.
It took Victory just four minutes to draw level thanks to some instinctive work from Diogo Ferreira which saw him win the ball and flick it to Thompson, who finished superbly with a deft chip which left Michael Theoklitos stranded.
The Roar responded with three shots in the next 10 minutes, one of which was saved, before Melbourne took a stunning lead 21 minutes in.
Harry Kewell stripped Henrique and played an angled ball in to Thompson's path.
The striker then wrong-footed both defender Matthew Jurman and keeper Theoklitos before slotting a cool shot on his left.
Roar upped the pressure and Leijer joined Carlos Hernandez in the book soon after. From the free kick, Thomas Broich rolled his shot under the wall and Thomas was beaten for the equaliser.
In a game of constant action, Brisbane then had a shot hit the post from Broich and another cleared off the line by Leijer.
Then 36 minutes in, Victory's chances were dealt another huge blow when Foschini saw red for a mis-timed tackle on Broich.
The visitors dominated the final 10 minutes of the half, but their only effort of substance was a long-range shot from Erik Paartalu which Thomas pushed wide.
The tempo of the second half was a complete contrast to the first. Brisbane completely dominated possession and spent much of their time passing the ball around their edge of the box, while creating few chances.
Paartalu put a shot from range just over, while Thomas was on hand to deny both Shane Stefanutto and substitute Issey Makajima-Farran.
Melbourne's chances were few and far between with Rody Vargas getting his head onto a corner soon after the hour which went over the top.
Billy Celeski and Danny Allsopp replaced Kewell and Hernandez but were mainly utilised as defenders as Victory tried to hold on.
There were plenty of late scares for Melbourne with Broich shooting just wide and Thomas producing a great save from Jurman's effort in stoppage time.
Melbourne Victory 2 (Thompson 10, 21)
Brisbane Roar 2 (Henrique 6, 27)
Crowd: 24,820 at Etihad stadium.