Bruno Fornaroli has made the best possible case for a spot in Graham Arnold’s Socceroos squad at the Asian Cup with a stunning four goal contribution to Melbourne Victory’s 4-3 win away at Western Sydney Wanderers.
When the veteran striker nodded in his fourth midway through the second half, it seemed like he would be the major story.
Marko Rudan’s Wanderers had other ideas, rising from the canvas to score twice late on an almost pull off the most miraculous of comebacks.
Last weekend they equalised late on to preserve their unbeaten record at Brisbane Roar, but would ultimately fall short on home turf.
Victory maintain their unbeaten start and now leapfrog Western Sydney in the ladder. With a Big Blue against Sydney FC next week and the Melbourne Derby a week later, this could be a season-defining win.
Despite the defeat, the Wanderers perhaps improved their status as Premiership contenders with a showing of pure heart, even when at times their execution was well off.
Marcus Antonsson scored twice and proved a constant handful up top, while Valentino Yuel, on debut, created the Swede’s second and scored himself to set up the grandstand finish.
Tony Popovic will have nothing but pride in the way his team played their football, but may also harbour concerns about their ability to go 90 minutes.
Not for the first time, they dominated early – Zinedine Machach, again, the star – but faded badly and ended up clinging on. Lucky for them, this time, they made it to the finish line.
The Wanderers hadn’t so much as conceded a goal at home, but that record wasn’t to last long.
Though the game was only eight minutes old when Fornaroli opened the scoring, it still felt like the goal had been coming: the possession split was north of 80% in favour of the visitors and Machach had already forced Lawrence Thomas into a smart save.
The Frenchman repeated the trick moments later, but this time, the Western Sydney keeper could only palm the ball back into the path of Fornaroli to tap home. The home supporters immediately looked for a flag, but it never came and, after a check, the goal stood.
The goal kicked Rudan’s charges into life. They finally got some ball and set about making dents into the Vuck defence.
Marcus Antonsson headed wide when he might have done better and Marcelo could have scored with a header from a corner, but picked out the keeper when anywhere else would have resulted in a goal.
But by the end of the half, Victory were comfortable again and extended their lead.
There were no surprises for guessing the architects: Fornaroli flicked to Machach on halfway and spun in behind, where he was picked out perfectly. The striker advanced on goal, using the onrushing Nishan Velupillay as an option before smashing past Thomas.
After the break, it got even better. Connor Chapman swung in a cross that caught Jack Clisby on the hand and Fornaroli was able to complete his hat trick from the spot.
Almost immediately, however, the shoe was on the other foot. Chapman lept arm first at a corner and was pinged for a second penalty, which Antonsson sent beyond Izzo.
The comeback suddenly seemed on. Perias clattered the bar, Aidan Simmons fired over and Milanovic hit the side netting, but all were from range and, perhaps, Victory weren’t overly worried to see their opponents shooting early.
Fornaroli would ice the game in the 74th minute. It was a little against the run of play, but definitive in its execution.
Daniel Arzani, who had been frustrating all night, finally found his quality with an excellent whipped free kick that was met at the front post by Fornaroli, who finished superbly low past Thomas.
The Wanderers could have folded, but are a team with zero quit. Yuel, on debut, crossed for Antonsson to head home, before meeting a free kick himself to give Victory an almighty scare.