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1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 4-3, 4-4, 5-4: surely this was the maddest game in A-League history

Emma Kemp
·7-min read
<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Scorelines rarely tell the full story. They flatter, and flatter to deceive, lack context and even credibility, and almost always fail to comprehend the narratives within the 90 minutes. Goals are never just goals – except, perhaps, when Western United played Perth Glory.

1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 4-3, 4-4, 5-4 says all it needs to. Eight segments of this nine-part tale played out in 28 minutes during the second half. Each of the eight were more maniacal than the last, a scarcely believable proposition given Saturday night started as a stock-standard A-League tie.

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United needed a first win of the season. The Glory, having won an eight-goal thriller against Adelaide three days prior, simply had to get through this 90 unscathed.

The visitors bore one blemish at the break through Víctor Sánchez’s gem of a 10th-minute strike. The Spaniard does not score often – his last came in 2016 for Espanyol. The fact the 6-4 scoreline of that loss to Sevilla was rather bloated only becomes significant once this fanatical, fantastical Geelong field has had its way with all and sundry.

At halftime, an unsuspecting Mark Rudan is hoping his United can “get a second one down in the second half”. Perth are back and bending their hosts out of shape. The clock says minutes and 27 seconds and Nick D’Agostino has a free-kick on halfway. Glory coach Richard Garcia is in his dugout, arms crossed, chewing gum so robustly his temples pulsate.

Tomi Uskok and Nick D&#x002019;Agostino
Tomi Uskok clashes with Nick D’Agostino. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Fifty-five minutes, 49 seconds – Substitute Carlo Armiento is on the left wing feeding to Bruno Fornaroli. Then he’s in the box and back in touch, hurtling towards the byline. Too close, surely, to beat Filip Kurto at his near post. His first touch is barely a nick but Aaron Calver’s boot cannot outstretch the second. Kurto’s glove suffers the same fate, a slap-dash reach to the right that spells the dreaded “momentum shift”. 1-1 Garcia chews, sips from his water bottle.

United make their move but possession changes hands again before Liam Reddy is called into action. Calver hooks it long; Darryl Lachman returns serve.

57:36 – Armiento is back and he’s legging it down the left flank and Fornaroli barely has to beckon for the cross because his backheel is waiting for a first-time finish. It is his 100th A-League game; he has a record 63 goals from that century. The Uruguayan’s fingers form a heart and then he’s pointing and motivating as if this might be the 2-1 winner.

59:38 – off goes Besart Berisha with Tomi Uskok in tow. A combined age of 64 makes way for the 43 that is Dylan Pierias and Lachy Wales.

59:46 – Wales is dribbling, stepping over, delivering with the outside of his boot to Pierias, whose head takes his first touch of the game. First touch for a first A-League goal. 2-2. That’ll do.

63:21 – wait a minute. Actually, wait four minutes. Pierias is back in the box and he’s lurking, lurking, then he’s off the shoulder and lashing in his second. A volley to put Pat Rafter to shame. Four touches for two goals, after 26 barren senior games. 3-2.

After the match, the 20-year-old, dizzy in guileless exhilaration, speaks at a speed not requiring punctuation.

“Mixed emotions,” he starts. “Sad happy sad happy phwoah I don’t even know I can’t describe it the fans would have been absolutely rapt with that game especially because we got the win in the end that was just ah phwoah that was like Fifa that’s what it reminded me of.”

There are more sads and happies still to come.

Not since 1988 have there been so changes in lead in a game, an equal record nine to match the exact score and sequence of South Melbourne’s 5-4 win over Apia Leichhardt. Ange Postecoglou scored in that one, as did Paul Trimboli and Kimon Taliadoros.

68:52 – Neil Kilkenny lofts a free-kick to the far post where D’Agastino’s head is at the ready. 3-3. Garcia is off his seat, catches himself smiling and wipes it away with his hand.

Goals are at risk of appearing indistinguishable in such voluminous circumstances; Kurto certainly might think so as he catches another whir of the ball between himself and his near post. But there are not two of a kind here, no second the same as another.

74:35 – Pierias is peppy, tries to control it on his chest but let down by his touch. Chance lost. But wait, they are back. Victor Sanchez is passing, Connor Pain harrying and Wales sees Alessandro Diamanti but the Italian has fluffed his line. The open goal stands open except for the hot pink whir that is Liam Reddy, poised for a follow-up but still not quite expecting it.

74:47 – goal-scorer Tomoki Imai disappears, his head underneath a pile of teammates. 4-3.

Steven Lustica
Steven Lustica reels off after scoring the winner for Western United. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

74:55 – Archie Thompson is losing it in the commentary box. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crazier game of football, especially in one half.” Something about Imai usually getting “nosebleeds” in the 18-yard box. “But there were no nosebleeds there.”

75:34 – VAR checks for offside. 76:06 – Nope, you can celebrate.

77:18 – Perth have a free-kick. Rudan is outside his technical area, skirting the touchline, bellowing directives.

77:48 – 14 bodies are on the edge of the box. Kilkenny does the honours. Some legs will be heavy. Ivan Vujica’s are not, for he is in an involuntary cartwheel. D’Agostino is on his bottom. Armiento avoids the airborne bodies, hooks it with his left, lands it in the right corner. Substitutes are all right. 4-4.

79:04 - the VAR is intent on disrupting this mayhem, searching for a foul amid the acrobatics. Seeking disorder from disorder. No cigar. Commentator Michael Zappone is urging history boffins to “get out the record books”.

Twitter is talking of parallel universes, “batshit mad” antics and Thompson calling Armiento “Amaretto”. Journalists embark on their 10th rewrite.

We’ve seen and heard it all now. Except we haven’t.

83:34 – Diamante is on set-piece duty, tries a training ground set play. On a day like today? Never mind, he has another chance. An out-swinging corner will do the trick; so will Steven Lustica. Deflection, deflection, and Reddy is on his backside cursing the throng in front that blocked his vision. 5-4. Eight goals scored in 28 minutes. The most second-half goals in A-League history.

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Diamante is cramping. Viewers are quipping his Serie A days have him more accustomed to 0-0 scorelines. Through the pain, the 37-year-old has painted on his Instagram grin just in time for a shirt tug. Nicholas Sullivan is not receptive. Not to the cheek of this goading combatant giving him the “relax” vibes even as a yellow card is drawn. Sullivan will not relax. He is chasing, pursuing Diamante and earning his own booking – a small price to pay to stop United scoring another.

They are shutting up shop now anyway, and so they should.

“At 4-3,” Rudan says afterwards, “I turned to Richard Garcia and said we’re part of something that’s going to be re-run for the next 20 years.”