Victory, Sydney share spoils
Melbourne Victory have been forced to settle for a 2-2 draw after conceding a late goal against Sydney FC at AAMI Park on Thursday.
As the rivals looked to be heading into half-time level, Victory duo Isaka Cernak and Fabio netted to give the hosts a 2-0 lead at the break.
But Sydney responded with a strong second half and Bruno Cazarine pulled one back in the 56th minute before former Victory defender Sebastian Ryall netted a late equaliser.
The draw sees Victory move into seventh, four points adrift of sixth-placed Sydney with a game in hand.
Star Harry Kewell made a lively start to the encounter, and he almost set up Cernak after five minutes - only for Scott Jamieson to clear at the back post.
With Victory sitting deep in a defence featuring debutant Mark Milligan, Sydney were forced into efforts from long range - and striker Cazarine twice failed to trouble goalkeeper Ante Covic from distance.
After a cagey opening it was the visitors who settled the quicker, yet it was Victory who created the best chance of the first 25 minutes.
Kewell won a ball in midfield and released Archie Thompson, but the striker's first touch let him down and the one-on-one with Liam Reddy went begging.
The influential Kewell went from creator to being presented the next chance when he peeled off to the back post and got on the end of a Carlos Hernandez set-piece that had evaded everyone in the penalty area.
But the Socceroo, after setting up with his first touch, leant back too far on his volley and put it over the bar.
Covic somehow kept Victory level with a stunning save in the 42nd minute.
Brazilian Cazarine released substitute Hirofumi Moriyasu, who came on for the injured Brett Emerton, and the midfielder cut back for Karol Kisel - but Covic somehow saved with his feet to deny the Slovakian.
Cernak put the hosts ahead in the 45th minute with a neat strike.
Matthew Foschini whipped in a cross from the right and Thompson touched it down for Cernak, who controlled before striking past Reddy.
It was not Victory's last success before the break, however, as Fabio scored his first goal for the club.
Sydney failed to deal with another Hernandez set-piece and the Brazilian took several touches before finding space for a shot from a tough angle that found the net after deflecting off Reddy.
It could have been 3-0 moments after the interval when Adrian Leijer's long pass found Thompson, but Reddy saved in their one-on-one.
Vitezslav Lavicka's men pulled one back in the 56th minute through the dangerous Cazarine.
Nick Carle hit an effort across the face of goal and Cazarine capitalised on a Covic spill to compose and blast into an open net.
Substitute Marco Rojas had a chance six minutes before the end, but he volleyed a tough opportunity over after Reddy was forced to parry Fabio's corner.
Sydney would get a late equaliser when Ryall netted three minutes after coming on.
A Jamieson set-piece went uncleared in the penalty area, and Ryall was on hand to rush in the leveller through a crowd of players.
Melbourne Victory 2 (Cernak 45, Fabio 45)
Sydney FC 2 (Cazarine 56, Ryall 90)