Melbourne Victory have put last weekend's loss behind them to draw first blood in the finals series against Sydney FC. In an enthralling contest, the Victory netted through Nik Mrdja and Carlos Hernandez before John Aloisi's shot just prior to half-time deflected off Kevin Muscat to peg one back for Sydney.
Following the AC/DC rock concerts during the week, parts of the ground were well-worn, especially in Melbourne's goal where goalkeeper Mitch Langerak was basically standing on a footpath but the players were not letting the conditions get the better of them.
Melbourne were pushing forward in the first ten minutes in a cagey opening but the first shot on target actually went to Sydney with Sung-Hwan Byun firing from long range but it did not worry Langerak who held it with ease.
In the 14th minute, A-League Player of the Year Carlos Hernandez made a menacing run through midfield, exchanging passes with Tom Pondeljak and then taking the ball right to the touchline but his cut back was well-handled by the Sydney defence, relieving goalkeeper Clint Bolton.
Just over a minute later, the Victory hit the lead when skipper Kevin Muscat played a long ball forward to Nik Mrdja who found himself in a one-on-two situation but Sky Blues defenders Simon Colosimo and Stephan Keller got in a tangle and the loanee from the Central Coast Mariners put his predatory skills to good use and slotted it past Bolton from the edge of the area.
25 minutes in, Langerak was again called on when Karol Kisel made a long run through the centre of the pitch and eventually ended up with the ball deep in attack after Muscat was wrong footed but the Slovakian's shot from a tight angle, although well-struck, did not trouble the Victory number one.
The possession slightly favoured Sydney throughout the first half and they did look dangerous with the likes of Alex Brosque, John Aloisi and Kisel steaming forward but the home side definitely had more attacking chances.
Another of those came in the 40th minute when the Victory took a two-goal lead after Nick Ward played Hernandez on-side and the Costa Rican had metres of space in front of him. He took the advantage of the wide open spaces and finished coolly past Bolton, sending the Etihad Stadium fans into raptures.
But in another twist, the visitors hit back less than two minutes later with a scrappy goal from Aloisi who bustled his way past the Victory defence and managing to throw his right boot at the ball which deflected off Muscat and in over Langerak to make it 2-1.
Two minutes into the second term, Hernandez was inches away from what would could have been the Goal of the Season when he hit a volley with the outside of his boot from the right flank the bobbled in towards Bolton's goal, but fortunately for the recent Melbourne Heart signing, the crossbar came to the rescue.
As much attacking play as Melbourne had, Sydney continued to look ominous and they themselves were inches away in the 53rd minute when youngster Brendan Gan found space outside the area but his shot skimmed past the side netting after whizzing past Langerak.
There was a bit of a lull in proceedings in the middle stages of the second half as the Victory attempted to control the tempo but Sydney were desperate for an equaliser and their hopes were made stronger when Mrdja was sent off in the 74th minute for a cynical elbow on Shannon Cole right in the heart of Melbourne's attacking penalty area. Two minutes later, Muscat was felled by a poor Gan challenge in the centre of the pitch but referee Peter Green only issued a caution to the Sky Blues midfielder.
The match calmed down after these incidents and the Victory were able to hang onto their lead with ten men and set up a mouth watering second leg in Sydney next weekend.
Starting Line-UpsMV 1. Mitch Langerak, 2. Kevin Muscat, 5. Surat Sukha (Evan Berger 60'), 6. Leigh Broxham, 8. Grant Brebner, 12. Rodrigo Vargas, 15. Tom Pondeljak (Matthew Foschini 90'), 16. Carlos Hernandez, 22. Nick Ward (Marvin Angulo 84'), 23. Adrian Leijer, 29. Nik Mrdja
Subs: 11. Marvin Angulo (84'), 17. Matthew Foschini (90'), 19. Evan Berger (60'), 20. Glen Moss, 25. Aziz Behich
Syd 1. Clint Bolton, 3. Stephan Keller, 4. Simon Colosimo, 6. Karol Kisel, 7. Brendan Gan (Chris Payne 78'), 8. Stuart Musialik, 9. John Aloisi, 12. Shannon Cole, 14. Alex Brosque, 15. Terry McFlynn (Iain Ramsay 90'), 22. Sung-Hwan Byun
Subs: 13. Anthony Golec, 16. Chris Payne (78'), 20. Ivan Necevski, 26. Hayden Foxe, 29. Iain Ramsay (90').