The Melbourne derby has returned to its brilliant best and coach Tony Popovic feels Melbourne Victory are back too after fighting out a dramatic 2-2 draw with Melbourne City at AAMI Park.
City, the reigning A-League Men champions who were without Mat Leckie, received a shock to the system when Francesco Margiotta powered Victory in front after 12 minutes.
In the 60th minute, Andrew Nabbout set up Jamie Maclaren for the equaliser then put City in front three minutes later.
But in stark contrast to last season’s 6-0 and 7-0 capitulations, Victory fought back.
Substitute Nick D’Agostino had the game’s final say with an 81st-minute equaliser, while Maclaren was bizarrely sent off in the 96th.
“It was a real derby, we wanted to bring that back,” Popovic said.
“Obviously after last year, it really wasn’t a contest.”
“But we made it a contest today and we brought the passion back on the field and obviously the fans as well felt that Melbourne Victory was back today and competed well.”
Victory cleverly took the lead when Jake Brimmer lifted a quick free kick over the sluggish City defence and into the path of Margiotta, who let the ball run across his body then lashed it home.
Marco Rojas (knee) came off in the first half but Popovic was confident it was just a knock.
City equalised after Florin Berenguer pinched the ball off Rai Marchan, burst forward then slipped a pass out wide to Nabbout.
The Socceroo whipped the ball across goal and Maclaren slid in to score.
Shortly after, Nathaniel Atkinson went on a jinking run, then worked the ball to Marco Tilio on the left.
The winger floated a cross to the back post where a surging Nabbout smashed home the header.
Popovic turned to Robbie Kruse and Nick D’Agostino in the 71st minute and the call bore fruit 10 minutes later.
Victory goalkeeper Ivan Kelava hoofed a clearance downfield and D’Agostino beat Curtis Good in a foot race to get to the ball first, then sidefooted it past Tom Glover.
“It was two teams who gave it their all,” City coach Patrick Kisnorbo said.
“We played some really good stuff. It’s just the two lapses of concentration that cost us.”
Both teams had chances to win it at the death but couldn’t break through, while Chris Beath sent off Maclaren after a scramble in his attacking 18-yard box, leaving Kisnorbo bemused.
“I know Jamie very well and his character isn’t of any malice or anything like that,” Kisnorbo said.
“So you’ll have to ask the referee because he blew his whistle up tonight, I thought.
“All I knew was the player blocked his shot, there was a bit of a scramble and the next thing you know there’s a red card.
“I can’t even give you an answer (on if City would appeal). I haven’t spoken to the ref. We need to see in his report what actually happened.
“I spoke to Jamie, and he didn’t swear at the ref. So, I actually don’t know what it was about.”