Don’t mention the VAR: Vuck waste chance against shotless Nix, but nobody happy as ref and tech dominate
After a week in which VAR has dominated headlines across the Premier League and Champions League, it was perhaps only appropriate that the A-League got in on the act.
The 1-1 draw between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix had plenty of action regardless of the refereeing, but a series of four calls either side of half time loomed large over the game, with both sides wondering if they had been mistreated by the officials, technological or otherwise.
Ryan Teague had opened the scoring, but Wellington were denied a look at a penalty after Daniel Arzani clattered Bozhidar Kraev in the box. VAR stayed silent.
Then, after an own goal had levelled the scores, they were denied again. This time referee Shaun Evans did signal for the penalty, only for the most marginal of offsides to be found in the build-up.
It was marginal at best, with the tech drawing the line through Nicholas Pennington’s armpit. He certainly accrued no advantage from his position, but the call stood.
The other side of the break, Evans was back into the action, blowing a penalty for Victory. This time, VAR told him to have a second look, with neither a foul nor a handball able to be seen.
Finally, Victory were left fuming as Ben Folami was brought down by Lukas Kelly-Heald, but the whistle remained in the pocket.
Evans had booked Pennington in the early stages for diving, and this was a clear situation where the only options were foul or flop, but the game continued apace without intervention from above.
Melbourne might be further angered by the huge delays caused by the technology. Not only were the fans in the stadium left clueless to what was occurring, the considerable momentum that the hosts were building both before and after the break went up in smoke as, time and again, play stopped and everyone waited.
There were six minutes added to both halves, but the checks took far longer than that.
In the end, both sides remain unbeaten and Melbourne, temporarily at least, go top. Not that it will feel like that after another game where they could and should have won.
The Phoenix have massively overperformed what their stats say they should have this year – roughly double the number of goals to expected goals – and for much of this, it was easy to see why.
They rode their luck at little at the back, as Victory wasted multiple promising positions, and then equalised without ever attacking. It was as meek as it gets, but somehow worked.
The number were wild. Wellington matched the hosts for possession, but created absolutely nothing, not generating as much as a single shot in the game, on target or off, with no corners and a grand total of six touches in the Victory box.
Their goal was an own goal, turned in by Damien da Silva after a rare foray upfield saw Kosta Barbarouses swing a hopeful cross into the box.
Melbourne had 18 shots, 7 of which were on Alex Paulsen’s goal, and a ridiculous 12 corners. They all came to nought.
Tony Popovic had seen this movie before. Just a week after being held by Adelaide after dominating, his side produced another virtuoso first half performance that saw them go 1-0 up through a beautifully crafted goal for Teague, before squandering chance after chance and letting their opposition back into it.
Teague struck after just 13 minutes, and even that early in the game, it had been coming. Nishan Velupillay found the excellent Jason Geria in the box and he showed a cool head to pick out the onrushing midfielder to finish.
It was a level of composure sadly lacking elsewhere. Time and again, Velupillay and Arzani got space and time – often of their own making through excellent interplay and dribbling – but constantly chose the wrong option and allowed Wellington to clear.
Inevitably the chance would come at the other end and, when it did, it could have been so much more.
Arzani was lucky not to concede a penalty after bargeing into Bozhidar Kraev, but moments later, the Nix were level anyway.
Arzani again was involved, this time throwing himself to the deck theatrically in search of an attacking free kick.
None came, and quick as a flash, the Kiwis broke to Barbarouses, whose cross was turned into his own net by da Silva.
The drama wasn’t done yet as the Victory captain very nearly compounded his pain by fouling Pennington for a penalty: Evans gave it, only for VAR to find an offside in the build-up.
The ref would be back in action straight away in the second half. This time it was Victory who thought they were due a penalty, with Fornaroli going down under pressure from Kelly-Heald.
Evans pointed to the spot, but after VAR interventions to check for a foul and a handball, nothing could be found and the decision was wiped off.
In the 70th minute, it happened a third time.Folami, on for Arzani, resumed the tormenting of Kelly-Heald, beating him along the right and going down under contact inside the box. The stadium screamed, but Evans saw nothing in it and the VAR agreed.
Popovic had seen enough and removed Velupillay and Fornaroli, switching number 10 Zinedine Machach to striker, but it did little to change the flow of the game.
Victory still pushed, got corner after corner, failed to make anything of their pressure and, eventually, time got the better of them.
Both sides remain unbeaten, but for the second week running, it was Victory who left thinking they should have took more than just a point.