Mark Rudan led the Western Sydney Wanderers to a 2-0 win over their cross-city rivals Sydney FC to silence some of the doubts over his appointment as permanent head coach.
The win takes the Wanderers to within three points of the Sky Blues, who are in danger of dropping out of the finals places with the teams around them having multiple games in hand.
Sydney should have found the opener after Kosta Barbarouses picked Adam Le Fondre out from the byline, but the Englishman failed to connect with the ball as he tried to divert it goalward with the inside of his foot in a disguised manner.
Ramy Najjarine tested the palms of Andrew Redmayne shortly after with a low shot from the left side of the penalty area. The Socceroos ‘keeper was able to gather the ball on the second attempt.
Najjarine’s next chance had Mark Rudan bouncing up and down in despair on the touchline. Ogawa had stolen the ball in the Sydney half and picked out the 21-year-old, but under pressure from Rhyan Grant, the Olyroo couldn’t guide his shot on target.
Shortly after however, Najjarine’s bright opening half efforts were rewarded after he was felled by James Donachie in the box. Hemed wasn’t put off by the “Yellow Wiggle” routine from Redmayne and slotted the ball straight down the middle to put the Wanderers ahead.
The Wanderers were celebrating once again when the game resumed after half time. Dimi Petratos’ corner was met by the run of Baccus, whose header beat the flailing grasp of Redmayne to score his first goal of the 2021/22 season.
Alex Wilkinson was guilty of missing with a free header from 10 yards out as Sydney looked to drag themselves back into the contest.
Former Holland international Luciano Narsingh was introduced off the bench for the Sky Blues, and almost made an immediate impact. Found in space on the right, his cross picked out Le Fondre at the back post, who thundered a shot against the crossbar.
Fellow sub Jared Carluccio won the ball off Anthony Caceres, sprinted towards the Sydney box and found Thomas Aquilina, who couldn’t guide his shot in the direction of the goal.
Sydney thought they had a penalty in the 90th minute when Alex King pointed to the spot following Carluccio’s sliding challenge, but VAR intervened quickly and effectively as the initial contact was made outside of the box.
RUDAN BACKS UP BOARD’S ENDORSEMENT
There can’t be many better ways to justify your appointment as manager than beating your bitter rivals but after the announcement yesterday was met by criticism, Rudan has done just that.
The deep block set up by Rudan to withstand the patient build-up of Sydney remained solid and impenetrable. Mrcela and Cancar as a new centre-back partnership looked commanding and kept Le Fondre et al extremely quiet, and Margush was only called into action once to make a block at his front post.
Rudan’s addition of defensive discipline marks a significant improvement on the Carl Robinson era, and will have been one of the things the Wanderers higher-ups felt the former Wellington Phoenix and Western United boss could bring.
WORK TO BE DONE IN ATTACK
That being said, Rudan won’t have completely silenced those sceptical of his appointment. This was a game low on quality and the Wanderers could and should have scored many more.
Both goals came from significant errors from Sydney FC, first in conceding the penalty and second in allowing Baccus to arrive unmarked and unchallenged at the corner. Away from set pieces, the Wanderers lacked any sort of potency, despite taking up some good positions.
Chance creation was not an issue – WSW had 15 shots during the match, to Sydney’s six – however the wastefulness in front of goal is something that must be addressed by Rudan if his team want to compete with the teams that are nearer the summit of the league.
Just 15 goals scored in 14 matches is a worrying statistic, with Hemed leading the Wanderers’ scoring charts with just four for the season.
SYDNEY FC’S DISAPPOINTING CAMPAIGN CONTINUES
As mentioned above, this was not a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination, and Sydney looked a shadow of the team that has been so ruthless over the last five years.
For all the control of the ball they had, the Sky Blues couldn’t break down that stubborn low block the Wanderers put up. 58% possession and 442 passes were converted into just a single shot on target.
When they lost possession, Sydney were left scrambling as the Wanderers surged forward to try and make them play, but offered little protection to Redmayne who had a decent game between the sticks.
Najjarine had the beating of Grant all too often whilst he was on the pitch, and it lead to all sorts of trouble for the visitors.
Real questions are now being asked of Steve Corica as to whether he is the right man to restore Sydney to their former glory.
A-League Men Round 17: CommBank Stadium
Western Sydney Wanderers 2 (Hemed 37m, Baccus 51m)
Sydney FC 0