Adelaide United denied Melbourne Heart a first victory of the A-League season in an entertaining 3-3 draw at AAMI Park on Sunday, with John Aloisi perhaps able to breathe a little easier following a spirited performance from his winless side.
It looked set to be another miserable afternoon for Heart when the visitors waltzed to an early 2-0 lead through Steven Lustica and Sergio Cirio.
Andrea Migliorini’s brace of memorable strikes and David Williams’ penalty saw Heart fight back to take a dramatic lead mid-way through the second half, before Marcelo Carrusca’s deflected free-kick meant the spoils were ultimately shared between two of the competition’s struggling sides.
Demonstrating the lack of defensive concentration which has cost them repeatedly so far this season, Heart conceded as early as the third minute from Adelaide’s first real foray forward.
Fabio Ferreira’s cross from the right flank was only partially cleared, allowing Lustica to unleash a shot which Patrick Kisnorbo blocked. The Reds midfielder gratefully pounced upon the rebound, dispatching the ball beyond Andrew Redmayne at the second attempt.
Heart should have equalised in the 14th minute, when Michael Mifsud was played clean through by Williams, only to see Eugene Galekovic smother the chance with a low save.
And the hosts were punished for that miss two minutes later, Redmayne spilling a shot from Jeronimo Neumann into the path of Cirio, who duly doubled Adelaide’s lead.
Heart’s woes in front of goal this season were epitomised in the 37th minute, when Mifsud got past an onrushing Galekovic, leaving the Adelaide goalkeeper stranded, only to dwell on the ball, allowing two defenders to get back.
The Malta international then dispatched his chipped attempt inches wide of the far post, somehow conspiring to miss when it seemed easier to score.
And the home team’s luck did not improve as the half wore on, with Kisnorbo, unmarked from a corner, shaving the same post from a header a minute before the break.
Heart might have been dead and buried nine minutes into the second term, when only a desperate Kisnorbo block prevented Cirio from making it 3-0.
But two minutes later, Migliorini provided the home team – and their embattled coach – with a spectacular lifeline.
Receiving the ball in a seemingly harmless position part-way into the Adelaide half, the Italian midfielder took a touch and advanced casually, before unleashing an unstoppable shot from at least 25 metres out, leaving Galekovic with no chance.
The resulting celebration was instructive. A section of the Heart’s supporters may have given up on Aloisi, but his players have not, Miglorini heading straight for his coach, to be joined by several team-mates in an emotional embrace on the sidelines.
The goal sparked Heart into life, substitute Golgol Mebrahtu cutting side and forcing Galekovic into a good save, only for the passage of play to be ruled offside.
In the 66th minute they were rewarded for their renewed endeavours. A quick ball over the top released Aziz Behich down the left flank. The fullback cut the ball back to Migliorini, who followed up his earlier effort with another dynamic effort from distance, sparking wild celebrations.
If Heart have been unfortunate at times this season, they finally caught a break with 20 minutes to go, when Gerhardt’s header from a corner stuck the upper body of Tarek Elrich.
Fans and players appealed for a penalty and referee Strebre Delovski, after a moment’s consideration, was convinced, despite replays suggesting the Adelaide defender used his chest to block the shot. That made no difference to Williams, who held his nerve to convert from the spot.
The momentum was now all with Heart, and they looked set to romp away to a fairytale victory. But Adelaide were not so easily dispatched, and enjoyed their own slice of good fortune when Carrusca’s free-kick clipped the defensive wall, looping past Redmayne to draw the visitors level.
Neither side proved able to force a winner in the time remaining, but Aloisi is now likely to live to fight another day, while his Adelaide counterpart Josep Gombau will face more questions about his talented team’s inability to convert promising performances into positive results.
Melbourne Heart 3 (Migliorini 56′, 66′, Williams p. 70′)
Adelaide United 3 (Lustica 3′, Zullo 16′, Carrusca 76′)
6,002 @ AAMI Park