Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC both remain in the hunt for a finals berth after the 10-man Sky Blues snared a point with a David Carney equaliser 14 minutes from time after Kosta Barbarouses had put Victory in front shortly after the restart in the final "Big Blue" of the season at AAMI Park on Saturday.
Victory and Sydney remain fifth and sixth on the A-League ladder, two points ahead of seventh placed Perth Glory and two behind Melbourne City, in fourth spot.
Both these clubs were involved in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday night, hence fatigue and squad rotation were always going to play a part in this encounter.
The Sky Blues had the harder job, having had to travel back from Japan (where they lost 2-0 to Urawa Red Diamonds), while Victory had their tails up after beating Shanghai SIPG 2-1 at AAMI Park that same evening.
Both coaches rang the changes, Sydney boss Graham Arnold selecting seven fresh faces in the starting line-up from that which faced Urawa, and Kevin Muscat making five changes.
That the game would be a little disjointed because of that could be expected, although no-one would have predicted quite how scrappy the first half would be.
There was plenty of effort, plenty of niggle, plenty of pushing, shoving, shouting and fouling, especially fouling, in a sharp, edgy opening 45 minutes.
Sadly, what there wasn't plenty of was football.
There were misplaced passes, balls fizzing out of control as players' touch let them down, and headers glanced out of play or in the wrong direction.
Plus leaden-footed tackles, cynical fouls, crude challenges and a slanging match involving — who else? — Besart Berisha.
It wasn't the greatest advertisement for the beautiful game. But as is the way in these grimy, gritty, physical get-down and get-dirty battles, it was compelling in its own fashion.
The last time these two teams met it was an Australia Day snoozefest at Etihad, a boreathon decided by a solitary own goal from Sydney defender Matthew Jurman. This time, at least, there was plenty of heat and conviction on display, as both teams knew a loss would make their finals position precarious.
The first half was characterised by fouls and disruptions from both teams as neither managed to find any sort of rhythm in a jagged, fractured tempo-less struggle illuminated by only a handful of memorable moments.
Gui Finkler's beautifully weighted free-kick, which beat Vedran Janjetovic in the 15th minute and struck the crossbar — the second time he has done so in the past three games — was Victory's highlight. Sydney's best chance came shortly after when David Carney went round young defender Scott Galloway and flighted a cross which Alex Brosque got his head to but directed wide.
The game got what it so desperately needed in the opening minute of the second half when Victory got their noses in front through Barbarouses.
Fahid Ben Khalfallah floated a long ball to the right, Barbarouses took control, rounded Rhyan Grant and fired low to beat Janjetovic at his near post.
The goal, as is so often the case, had a transformative effect.
Sydney became more adventurous, while Victory — who, to be fair, had tried to force the pace in the opening half — were looking to exploit space they could find in the Sydney half now the visitors were compelled to look for a leveller.
Ben Khalfallah had a chance when the ball fell to him after Sydney failed to clear a free-kick, but he blazed over. Finkler then headed into Janjetovic's arms.
The drama ratcheted up another notch in the 64th minute when Sydney defender Jacques Faty was given his marching orders after he brought down Berisha.
The French born Senegalese international only had himself to blame as he failed to control a long ball as Berisha bore down on him. As the Victory front man sprinted past, Faty arm-wrestled and tugged at him. As the last defender, this was always going to earn him a red card.
Luckily he conceded only a free-kick, not a penalty, but a hard road for the Sky Blues got tougher from then on as they tried to get back into the game with 10 men.
Finkler almost found the touch to deflect Leigh Broxham's header past Janjetovic, but Sydney, showing plenty of grit, held out and began to create some opportunities.
And with 15 minutes remaining the outnumbered visitors got back on level terms when Carney went past young centre-back Thomas Deng and fired across Danny Vukovic to level the scores.
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