Melbourne Victory have claimed bragging rights over Melbourne Heart with an entertaining 2-1 derby win at Etihad Stadium
|By IAIN STRACHAN
Melbourne Victory held out for a 2-1 win over Melbourne Heart at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, making it a second successive derby triumph for Ange Postecoglou's in-form team.
Local bragging rights were not the only prize on offer - maximum spoils see Victory close to within three points of Central Coast Mariners after the A-League leaders could only draw with Brisbane Roar on Friday.
Archie Thompson opened the scoring for Victory in the 29th minute, and Mark Milligan doubled the lead from the penalty spot 10 minutes into the second half.
An opportunistic David Williams pulled one back for Heart with 17 minutes remaining, but they could not snatch an equaliser, as Victory registered their first derby win at the Docklands stadium.
John Aloisi's Heart dominated the first 15 minutes, with Eli Babalj menacing in his first start since returning from Red Star Belgrade.
But the team in red and white were unable to gain reward for their early endeavours and, after weathering a sustained period of pressure, it was Victory who opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark.
An inch-perfect long ball from Argentine playmaker Marcos Flores released Thompson in behind the Heart defence, and the striker had no trouble guiding his shot beyond Andrew Redmayne to make it 1-0.
With 10 minutes remaining in the first half, injuries forced both teams to make changes.
Heart withdrew forward Josip Tadic for Golgol Mebrahtu, while Victory centre-back Nick Ansell limped off with a groin problem. Midfielder Jonathan Bru came off the bench, prompting Leigh Broxham to drop into defence.
The disruption caused a brief lull in proceedings before the fancy footwork of Thompson jolted both teams back to life just before the break.
Advancing into the area, the Socceroos man turned young Heart right-back Jeremy Walker inside-out, before dispatching a low shot which Redmayne did well to tip round the post.
From the resulting corner, Billy Celeski launched a dipping long-range effort which just shaved the cross-bar.
Heart replied in kind soon afterwards, a curling free-kick from substitute Mebrahtu crashing into the angle between post and bar.
In contrast to that flurry of activity, the second half began innocuously enough, before the peace and quiet was interrupted by an incident which effectively decided the contest.
On 55 minutes, Jonatan Germano was deemed to have pushed Flores inside the area, and referee Strebre Delovski had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Milligan stepped up and confidently stroked the penalty into the bottom right corner of the net, sending Redmayne the wrong way to make it 2-0.
With Victory pressing for a third, the result appeared to be a foregone conclusion, until Williams breathed new life into the contest.
The winger - dangerous all evening against Victory debutant Sam Galloway - cut in from the flank, seized on a loose ball and beat two defenders before slamming the ball past Nathan Coe to make it 2-1.
The match then hung on a knife edge and could have gone either way as both teams spurned good chances to score within the next 60 seconds.
First, Williams crossed for Mebrahtu to head inches wide of goal, before Rojas was denied from close range by Redmayne.
Victory enjoyed one of the best opportunities late on, left-back Adama Traore teeing up Thompson, who saw his header tipped over the bar.
Rojas and Thompson again shot straight at Redmayne in extra-time, Victory though were happy to settle for the win, as Heart's slim finals hopes suffered another blow.