A Besart Berisha brace and strike from Panagiotis Kone has fired Western United to a 3-1 win over cross-town foes Melbourne Victory and, in doing so, given the club an important win on and off the field.
United pulled out a number of extra stops ahead of their first-ever visit from the big dogs on the Victorian footballing block. Taylor Henderson (apparently, he was the 2013 X-Factor Runner Up) performed ahead of kick-off and the club even brought out a brass band at halftime.
The weather, too, seemed to be in on the act – Geelong producing an absolutely gorgeous 24C day with nary a cloud in sight over Kardinia Park.
Nonetheless, if you want music on a summer’s day you go to a festival, not a football match.
But luckily for Western United, there was a pretty entertaining one played out at Kardinia Park on Sunday afternoon.
Thanks largely to the sizable contingent of travelling Victory fans that were further bolstered by a number of casual fans no doubt drawn to the occasion by the allure of the four-time A-League champions, the crowd was comfortably the largest that Western United has attracted to a home game thus far.
And thanks again to the fans in navy blue, it also meant the atmosphere that permeated the ground was the best so far produced at a United home game.
It served to provide colour to one of the most entertaining contests produced by the A-League so far this season – both Victory and United producing a highly open and attacking contest born of their need to remain ensconced in top-six contention.
Jakob Poulsen’s long ball forwards for Nabbout in the 14th minute enabled the Socceroos attacker to rumble his way down the right flank – beating defender Ersan Gulum for pace – before thundering a shot past goalkeeper Filip Kurto to make it 1-0 win.
It was a goal of pure pace, power and pure entertainment.
Just three minutes later, the headline writers were sated when Besart Berisha rose high over both Panagiotis Kone and Leigh Broxham to bundle a Connor Pain cross over the line and restore parity.
Famously combustible, Berisha remained composed in the aftermath of the goal, picking the ball up and running it back to the halfway line as VAR checked to ensure he hadn’t handled the ball in the process of scoring.
Thanks to some absolute woeful marking from Poulsen – who was a completely static ball-watcher – Kone fired the hosts ahead seven minutes later when he split the Victory defence and guided an Alessandro Diamanti free-kick beyond Lawrence Thomas.
A madcap exchange that saw Kone test Thomas in the 30th, Toivonen force a world-class save from Filip Kurto in the 31st and James Donachie hit the frame of the goal from the subsequent corner only served to keep the action ticking over.
One final act was added to the first-half in the 43rd minute when Berisha got on the end of one of the best crosses you’ll ever see from Josh Risdon – and took advantage of some poor Donachie marking – to head home and make it 3-1.
His celebrations in the aftermath were significantly less demure than following his first.
Though chances, as United looked to slow the game down, took a dive in the second half a building tension went someways towards counter-acting that, as did Kurto’s supreme save to deny Toivonen’s shot from a Josh Hope cutback in the 74th.
For fans of the dark arts, the ability of Kurto and Gulum to waste time on their way to a win was also quite a bit of fun.
In arresting a three-game losing run and consolidating their place in the top four, the win is significant for Western United already but, given its highly entertaining nature, it also presents a fantastic opportunity for the club to attempt to turn some of the sizable contingent of casuals that attended into some level of fan.
Winning will, no doubt, serve as the biggest lure towards the fans in Victoria’s west that the club are looking to pursue but there is something to be said for treating fans to a good show.
Unfortunately, should any of the 10,128 fans that attended the second Westgate Derby wish to attend United’s next match, they will be forced to make the trek out to Ballarat to do so – United’s round 11 home game against Wellington Phoenix to be played at Mars Stadium on December 28.
Their next home game in Geelong won’t arrive until January 19.
United’s task will be to keep the momentum going until then.