Adelaide United have snatched a 2-2 draw with Melbourne Heart after being reduced to ten men at Coopers Stadium on Friday night.
Fabio Ferriera’s last-minute strike salvaged a draw for the Reds, who had seen their finals hopes dwindling after Tarek Elrich was sent off for head-butting Aziz Behich in the 35th minute.
Injury also soured the result, with defender Michael Malone stretchered off in the fourth minute with a broken leg and striker Jeronimo Neumann appearing to injure a leg late in the match.
It was a fiery encounter between the sides, with nine yellow cards along with Elrich’s red handed out on the night.
The match had started brilliantly for United, with Marcelo Carrusco scoring the fifth fastest goal in A-League history after only 26 seconds.
Adelaide were 1-0 up before the Heart had even touched the ball.
Carrusco had a chance for a second in the 21st minute after being played in by Nigel Boogaard, but pushed his shot over the bar.
Neumann, who came on as Malone’s replacement, also had a chance to make it 2-0 when he dived on the resulting ball from a Melbourne defensive error, but his volley hit the post.
From there, Melbourne began to work their way back into the game until the incident that turned the match on its head.
Elrich conceded a penalty and his first yellow in the 33rd minute when his reckless challenge on Steven Mauk sent Steven Williams to the spot, who coolly converted.
Elrich was then given his second yellow and marching orders just two minutes later for the head-butt behind play that will see him miss next week’s final round clash with Newcastle, but will also come under scrutiny by the match reviewers.
Eugene Galekovic and Michael Zullo then received yellow cards of their own for dissent.
Williams failed to convert his second penalty after Galekovic pulled off a fantastic right-hand save, but the Reds were rattled and Melbourne took the lead in the 42nd minute with Mate Dugandzic pouncing on the ball after a goal-line scrimmage.
Heart would have the lead at half-time and all the momentum.
It was a tense affair in the second half but the Reds slowly regained control, creating a host of chances until Ferreira’s fantastic strike in injury time ensured the Reds would walk away with a point and third spot on the ladder.
Reds Manager Josep Gombau will be relieved his team didn’t let the game slip, but injuries and Elrich’s suspension are surely a concern for the Spaniard, especially with only one game to go until the finals.
He can find comfort in the fact the Reds will be there, however, as their spot in the playoffs is now secure.
What did you make of the game? How high can the Reds finish from here?