Hoppers Crossing’s unblemished record was put under severe stress in Football Federation Victoria men’s state league 2 at Grange Reserve on Saturday.
A goal down and a man down at half-time, the Reds still found a way in the second half.
They overcame the dismissal of captain Brian Chesson to a red card by piling on three unanswered goals for an incredible comeback 3-1 win over Hume United to preserve their spot at the top of the table.
Reds coach Shaun Barbara was always confident his side had goals in it despite going down to 10 men, but was not sure if it could keep United out, having lost defender Chesson.
Barbara’s message at half-time to the Reds was about not losing faith and to still “go out and play football”.
“I said to the boys, if we stick to what we do and know best, we can still win the game,” he said.
“We just had to dig deep, band together and strategically get some football back into the game.”
The tide began to turn early in the second half.
Daniel Sweeney pulled a goal back for Hoppers Crossing seven minutes into the half and the match’s momentum changed instantly.
“It was good that we got a goal quite early into the second half,” Barbara said.
“It lifted the spirits and gave the boys a bit of belief.”
On the hour mark, Hoppers Crossing took an unlikely lead through Taira Matsumoto.
Instead of being burdened by going a man down, two goals in eight minutes were a reflection of how the Reds upped their workrate and went about finding better avenues to goal.
“You get a lot of coaches who say it’s harder to play against 10 men sometimes,” Barbara said.
“All of a sudden, guys are mentally aware that they’ve got to work harder, they’ve got to be organised better and the margin of error is quite small.
“We also became a little bit direct in the first half, which became a little bit predictable for them to defend.”
Hoppers Crossing’s comeback win was completed when Matsumoto provided an insurance goal in the dying stages.
The result keeps the Reds on top of the ladder heading into the Easter break, but shows the rest of the competition they are not unbeatable.
“For all their hard work, to go into the Easter break the way they have is fantastic,” Barbara said. Matthew Scott was outstanding on debut for Hoppers Crossing in the middle of the park.
There was a noticeable lift from Daniel Sweeney, Kwake Dade and Liam McDermott after their captain was shown red.
Hoppers Crossing’s next game is away against Diamond Valley United on Saturday, April 22.