AAMI Park was as full as it could be these days of COVID-19, and Melbourne Victory supporters went out of their way to urge their team to a win in their first home game in nearly a year.
But their efforts were unsuccessful when Brisbane Roar took the lead on Saturday night and then won again 3-1, despite the impressive first-half equalizer from winning debutant Callum McManaman to put the hosts in the driver’s seat.
Roar lost his first game of the season to Melbourne City earlier this week but was sharp on Saturday night.
Victory hadn’t played in nearly a month and had been quarantined for time, so her inability to lose 90 minutes should have come as no surprise.
The hosts controlled the opening phase, but the guests came out on top with two goals in the second half after taking the break on the same level.
Grant Brebner was named Victory’s new coach in the dark winter days after a disappointing and tumultuous season and little was expected immediately after the club lost key players like captain Ola Toivonen.
But a few months – and a wise assessment of the transfer market – can change everything.
Jake Brimmer and Jacob Butterfield have made it into midfield alongside veteran Leigh Broxham, and McManaman, a former Premier League regular, brought dexterity, pace, trickery and a fatal shot into the attack.
With Brimmer asking to come forward and play positive passes at every opportunity and Butterfield working hard in his box-to-box role, Victory looked focused and menacing.
While the hosts dominated, it wasn’t all one-way traffic and Roar was dangerous during the break as she was in 16th place. Minute when they took the lead, wreaked havoc.
Former Victory full-back Corey Brown cleared to the left and hit the sideline before pulling a cross back to Dylan Wenzel-Halls to shoot.
The young striker’s efforts may have worked anyway, but veteran Scott McDonald made sure of it and prompted Victory to take up sideline careers immediately. After a long delay, VAR decided McDonald was on its side and the target was on.
Brebner’s side, however, was intrepid and came back with even more intent. Equalization seemed inevitable, and it came in 24th. Minute thanks to this fantastic goal from McManaman.
The ex-Wigan Athletic player took advantage of a slip by Rahmat Akbari to pounce on a loose ball and head towards the Roar goal. He slipped in for a challenge before triggering a fierce left-footed shot from outside of area to punch Jamie Young as the ball rolled around and inside the far post.
Victory increased the stake with McManaman, who bonded well with Storm Roux on the right, and Adama Traore, who teamed up with Marco Rojas on the left, as Brimmer, Butterfield and Broxham took control of the middle of the field.
But any team that doesn’t take advantage of their pressure is always vulnerable and Brisbane started the second period at a faster pace.
At the hour, Macauley Gillesphey climbed up to bring a good delivery of Brown home from a corner to restore the lead to one goal. 11 minutes from time, Wenzel-Halls ran to a long break and cleverly beat Nick Ansett before firing past Max Crocombe to give them the three points.
Brebner’s suffering got worse when star Rojas hobbled away with a first muscle injury.
The active fans of Victory were there with full voice at their first start of the season. A banner paid tribute to the recently deceased fan Benjamin Diaz.
Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief football reporter and also covers motorsports and horse racing
Melbourne Victory FC, Brisbane Roar FC, A-League
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