Victory, Sydney play out enthralling draw
With the Central Coast Mariners beating Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1 at home earlier in the day, Victory had an opportunity to take the initiative in the keenly-contested scrap for a top-two finish.
Frank Farina's men had other ideas however, and took the lead early in the second half at AAMI Park through Joel Chianese.
James Troisi levelled for the hosts, but neither should proved able to find a winner, leaving Victory fourth, one point behind the Wanderers and two points back from Phil Moss' reigning champions.
The draw could also prove costly for Sydney, who move back into the top six but will drop to seventh if the Newcastle Jets win away to Perth Glory on Sunday.
The match started at a good tempo, with both teams moving the ball quickly and looking to get forward.
Victory tested Sydney's pace at the back as early as the second minute, when Scott Galloway's through-ball released Kosta Barbarouses down the right flank. The Sky Blues' rearguard had to be alert to clear the New Zealand international's powerful cross.
Three minutes later and the away side had their first sight of goal, with Ali Abbas given plenty of space to deliver a ball into the area which Richard Garcia headed over.
Victory enjoyed a spell of extended dominance mid-way through the half, producing chances for Troisi and Guilherme Finkler, the latter's shot deflecting wide with Sydney goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic beaten.
The visitors responded by looking for Alessandro Del Piero to act as an outlet and it was the Italian's lay-off in the 25th minute that set up Matt Thompson to sting the palms of Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas.
On the half-four mark Del Piero went close himself, sending a low free-kick fizzing wide of the far post. And from the resulting corner, taken short with the aid of Abbas, the superstar marquee chipped a ball up for Garcia to head just wide of goal.
The former Melbourne Heart man, on the end of a rare Sydney counter-attack, had earlier been guilty of a glaring miss, lobbing a weak header across the face of goal with the net gaping.
Arguably the best chance yet for either side arrived on 32 minutes when Barbarouses burst into the penalty area and turned centre-back Sasa Ognenovski inside out before dispatching a shot just wide of the far post.
Sydney had the last say of an eventful half and might have been awarded a penalty when Contreras bundled over Chianese inches outside the box. Del Piero's subsequent free-kick struck the wall on the way through, forcing Thomas to claw it over the bar.
As a welcome reminder that there is still no love lost between the two clubs, Victory coach Kevin Muscat had a sharp exchange of views with Abbas and Del Piero at the half-time whistle with a chorus of boos ringing down from the stands as the Sydney players left the field.
While the opening period provided plenty of action and no goals, that was remedied almost immediately after the restart. The energetic Abbas cut inside and ran at the Victory defence, who backed off and allowed the Iraqi to shoot. Thomas could only parry the ball, allowing Chianese a simple tap-in.
Victory responded by redoubling their efforts going forward and were rewarded in the 63rd minute. Captain Mark Milligan, excellent throughout, showed plenty of desperation to win possession high up the field and supplied the ball to Finkler. The Brazilian's nimble feet fed Troisi who tucked a well-placed shot out of Janjetovic's reach and into the far side-netting.
The home side attacked with gusto after drawing level but both teams were restricted to half chances in the closing stages.
Fullbacks Scott Galloway and Adama Traore did well to create openings only to fluff their lines when shooting while Archie Thompson was obliged to get back and supply an inch-perfect tackle to deny Sydney an opportunity in injury time. Finkler had the last best opportunity to win the game, firing a long-range effort into the arms of a grateful Janjetovic.
Victory will look to revive their charge for a top-two finish away to Newcastle Jets next weekend, while Sydney are next in action at home to Wellington Phoenix.
Melbourne Victory 1 (Troisi 63')
Sydney FC 1 (Chianese 48')