All week, Gui Finkler was rumored to start in place of James Troisi. Those reports were proven false at kick-off, but Finkler still managed to play a starring role in Melbourne Victory's 1-1 draw against visiting Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park on Saturday night. The Brazilian replaced Troisi in the 66th minute and later won and converted a stunning free kick to steal a point for the Victory and keep within striking distance of the Wanderers with 2013 now complete.
Before Finkler's dramatics, however, Brendon Santalab seemed to have stolen the show with his 71st minute goal. Though listed by his club and the A-League as unavailable for the match, the striker who penned a two-year extension last month, was indeed on the substitute's bench. He replaced Jason Trifiro (who was also supposedly unavailable) in the 70th minute and immediately justified his inclusion. Taking a through ball from Tahj Minniecon, Santalab touched the ball just far enough to draw out Nathan Coe but not so far as to prevent poking it under the goalkeeper's outstretched arm for the opening goal.
Yet it was Finkler who made the lasting impression of the game. Winning a free kick deep into injury-time, the long-injured Brazilian whistled his set piece just inside the near post, sending Ante Covic crashing face first into the post and sending AAMI Park into hysterics. Though he may not yet be ready to play 90 minutes, given his extended rehabilitation on his ruptured achilles tendon, Finkler has shown in brief spells this season that he can have a profound impact on Victory games.
Shared points leaves the ladder exactly as it started on Saturday evening with the Victory four points shy of the Wanderers' second position. However, not taking three points means Melbourne can be equaled or passed by Central Coast Mariners or Newcastle Jets, depending on the results of their games later this weekend. Western Sydney have a quick turnaround and host Wellington Phoenix on New Years Day at Pirtek Stadium. The Victory play again on Saturday January 4, hosting Brisbane Roar in a hugely anticipated game at AAMI Park.
WSW Santalab (Minniecon) 71'
MVC Finkler 94'
Melbourne Victory: Coe; Traore, Contreras (Galloway 52'), Leijer, Geria (Nabbout 74'); Pain, Broxham; Barbarouses, Milligan; Troisi (Finkler 66'), Nichols
Unused substitutes: Thomas, Jeggo
Western Sydney Wanderers: Covic; D'Apuzzo, Topor-Stanley, Spiranovic, Polenz; La Rocca, Poljak; Minniecon (Heffernan 78'), Trifiro (Santalab 70'), Appiah (Hersi 59'); Haliti
Unused substitutes: Tyson