Sydney FC have claimed bragging rights from the Western Sydney Wanderers, winning a pulsating derby encounter 3-2 at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Sydney got off to the perfect start, with Adam Le Fondre able to turn his defender and dispatch a lethal shot past Daniel Margush after two minutes.
The hosts were putting their rivals under a spell of early pressure, but this was broken in the 19th minute, when Tomer Hemed was able to capitalise off a poor defensive header from Milos Ninkovic and lashed the ball past debutant keeper Adam Pavlesic.
Sydney thought they had scored a second through Trent Buhagiar in the 28th minute, but it was disallowed due to the ball going out of play. Margush pulled some a couple of excellent stops in the 32nd minute from Le Fondre and Callum Talbot.
As both sides tried to wrestle the momentum of the match, James Troisi had a golden opportunity after the Sydney defence squandered possession, but he blazed his effort over the bar.
The Wanderers would rue that miss, as a loose ball fell to Trent Buhagiar in the box, who duly swept the ball home in the 66th minute. And the speedster doubled his tally just four minutes later, catching the Wanderers defence napping and skilfully beating Philip Cancar.
Mark Rudan made four changes at once in a desperate attempt to claw his side back into the game, and it had an instant impact, with Tate Russell getting on the end of a looped Keanu Baccus cross to halve the deficit.
Thomas Aquilina almost levelled the game, his long range effort cannoning off the post, and the Wanderers felt they should have had a penalty after James Donachie’s arm made contact with the ball in the box.
Record breaker Rhyan Grant was sent off for a second yellow card in the 89th minute, and Paslevic made a crucial save from Steven Ugarkovic in stoppage time to keep his side in front.
STRIKERS FIND THEIR SHOOTING BOOTS
Both of these sides have struggled in the attacking department’s this season, with their key strikers Adam Le Fondre and Tomer Hemed having below par seasons by their lofty standards.
Before tonight, Le Fondre had only scored two goals in 15 games, whilst Hemed had scored four in 15, including two penalties.
Both men have been plagued by injury and fitness issues that have curtailed their momentum at times this season, but their inability to consistently trouble the scoresheet has ultimately played a part in their team’s struggles.
In this crucial derby game though, they both stood tall. Le Fondre showcased great movement to beat his man and smash the ball in early on, whilst Hemed showed his predatory instinct by meeting a loose ball and converting a half-chance when his side were struggling to get into the game.
Trent Buhagiar also enjoyed a successful night, scoring two goals in quick succession to put his side in the ascendancy.
DISAPPOINTING CROWD IN NUMBER, BUT NOT IN VOICE
Many games in the A-League Men’s season have suffered from unexpected rescheduling, and this derby game was no different.
Originally slated for the end of the month, it was moved at short notice to Kogarah due to Sydney’s Asian Champions League commitments.
Combine this with both team’s below average performances and a relative lack of promotion, and the number of people in attendance was disappointing, with only half of the stadium being filled.
To the credit of those who showed up, both active ends – The Cove and RBB – made sure that there was a lively and colourful back drop to a game that in previous times saw 40,000 people pack out stadiums.
It is not ideal that the game was not a sell out, but the atmosphere created shows that there is still passion and feeling in this rivalry.
CRUCIAL WIN FOR SYDNEY, POTENTIALLY FATAL LOSS FOR THE WANDERERS
Coming into this game, Sydney had only won two of their last nine league games, and were outside of the six, a chance of missing the finals for the first time since 2015-16.
The Wanderers were in a similar predicament, being six points out of the finals and running out of games to catch up. A draw wouldn’t suit either team.
In the end, Sydney for a change were able to convert their chances and put themselves back into the top four. Their season is potentially back on track.
For the Wanderers, though, it’s difficult to shake the fact that defeat could be a mortal one for their finals chances. They were on a three game unbeaten run and have been showing relative signs of improvement under Rudan, but they now sit seven points behind Wellington in 6th, who have a game in hand.
The Wanderers have it all to do if they are to end their run of missing the finals.
ISUZU Ute A-League Men’s Round 21
Sydney FC 3 (Le Fondre 2m, Buhagiar 66m, 70m )
Western Sydney Wanderers 2 (Hemed 18m, Russell 75m)