Melbourne Victory twice came from behind to beat local rivals Melbourne City 5-2 and lay down a marker to the rest of the A-League in front of a packed Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.
International marquee Besart Berisha was the hero for the Big V, netting a hat-trick to secure the bragging rights for Kevin Muscat's men, thanks in no small part to a man-of-the-match performance from Kosta Barbarouses and a brace from Archie Thompson.
David Villa, playing perhaps his penultimate game in Australia, was held goalless as City failed to capitalise on some good possession and a strong start to the game, with John van 't Schip left scratching his head as Victory overwhelmed their cross-town foes after the break.
What they said
Berisha: "I wish it was lazy. It was really tough work. We came twice back and showed really good character. The boys deserved the win because we fight and never give up."
Barbarouses: "Yeah, we made the most of the space. When I've got Bes (Berisha) and Archie (Thompson) playing alongside me and Gui (Finkler) providing me with the balls, it's an easy job."
Kisnorbo: "It was a lapse of concentration. We gave them a gift of a goal and it pretty much went downhill from that point on. We'll take the positives from tonight, we played a good half of football and scored two goals from set pieces."
1-0 (Robbie Wielaert 13') - Aaron Mooy's in-swinging free-kick from the right flank arrived smack bang in the middle of the corridor of uncertainty between defence and goalkeeper, with Dutch centre-back Wielaert only too happy to enter that Bermuda Triangle and power home the opener.
1-1 (Archie Thompson 23') - Barbarouses' perfectly-weighted pass slipped in Guilherme Finkler, who was able to squeeze the ball wide to Thompson, the veteran notching from what may have been an offside position.
1-2 (Hoffman 26') - Victory have impressed with their set-piece routines so far this season but it was City's turn to claim a goal straight off the training field. Corner-taker Aaron Mooy exchanged a clever one-two with a team-mate stationed outside the area before curling an inviting cross into the penalty area, Jason Hoffman climbing highest to head his team back into the lead.
2-2 (Berisha 45+1') - New Zealand international Barbarouses made the goal, evading challenges from Iain Ramsay and David Villa, before turning Patrick Kisnorbo inside-out to shoot at Andrew Redmayne. The goalkeeper could only parry the shot, with poacher-extraordinaire Berisha on hand to loop a neat finish into the roof of the net.
3-2 (Berisha 46') - Berisha did it all himself for Victory's third, shaking off the attentions of the City defence before unleashing a strike which took a deflection off Wielaert, wrong-footing Redmayne and giving the men in navy blue and white the lead for the first time in the game.
4-2 (Berisha 67') - James Brown's needless challenge in the back of Matthieu Delpierre saw Strebre Delovski point to the spot and Berisha did the rest, netting his second penalty in three matches to complete his first hat-trick in Victory colours.
5-2 (Thompson 87') - Who else but Barbarouses? The Kiwi played an exquisite pass from wide to take out the entire City defence and release Thompson though on goal. The Victory favourite rounded Redmayne with ease to bag his second and Victory's fifth.
In the opening 60 seconds of the game Scott Galloway - making his first appearance of the season - showed awareness and desire to intercept a pass before it reached David Villa, drawing a huge cheer from the Victory supporters. The Spaniard went on to be a danger throughout the first half and gave the young fullback a searching examination before switching to the point of the attack, but that early moment epitomised Victory's determination not to be overawed by the World Cup winner.
On as a substitute just before the hour mark, Brown's ill-judged barge on Delpierre gifted Victory a fourth goal and left City's floodgates wide open.
Back to the drawing board
City's 4-3-3, with Paartalu holding and Mooy and Murdocca closing down Milligan and Valeri, enabled Van 't Schip's side to isolate Victory's forward line from their holding midfielders in the first half. But playmaker Finkler remained a danger and converted fullback Ramsay had no answer to the in-form Barbarouses. When City's dynamic central duo tired in the second half, Victory began to dominate possession and pulled away from their local rivals.
The Final Word
After a scratchy draw against Adelaide United last week, Victory overcame a slow start to reassert their status as genuine title contenders. Any ill effects from the long mid-week trip to play Perth Glory in the FFA Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday should be mitigated by the fact they are not in A-League action again until hosting Wellington Phoenix on Monday November 3. City meanwhile have a tough assignment at home to Adelaide on Friday night. Lose that one - David Villa's final game for the club until his possible return from New York City later this year - and the club's glitzy rebrand is will look dead in the water.
Melbourne Victory: Nathan Coe, Scott Galloway (Leigh Broxham 69'), Daniel Georgievski, Adrian Leijer (Rashid Mahazi 84'), Mathieu Delpierre, Mark Milligan, Carl Valeri, Kosta Barbarouses, Guilherme Finkler, Archie Thompson, Besart Berisha (Ben Khalfallah 75').
Melbourne City: Andrew Redmayne, Jason Hoffman, Iain Ramsay, Robbie Wielaert, Patrick Kisnorbo, Erik Paartalu (Paulo Retre 69'), Aaron Mooy, Massimo Murdocca (Jacob Melling 84'), Damien Duff, Mate Dugandzic (James Brown 58'), David Villa.
Scorers: Wielaert (13'), Thompson (23', 87'), Hoffman (26'), Berisha (45+1', 46', 67')
Red cards: None
Yellow cards: Berisha (32'), Mooy (41'), Duff (50')
Conditions: 18°, dry
Attendance: 43, 729 @Etihad Stadiumcomments