Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC
Date and Local Kick-Off Time at Stadium: Saturday 28 February 2015 - 7:30PM
Sydney Kick-Off Time: 7:30PM EDT
Competition: A-League Regular Season
Location: Parramatta, New South Wales
Stadium: Parramatta Stadium
Click here to view the record
An Ian Crook inspired Wanderers took everything Kashima Antlers could throw at them before a storming last ten minutes saw the reigning Asian Champions take out an battling 3-1 win in Japan.
The Wanderers were sent out with Ian Crook in charge due to a touchline ban on Tony Popovic carried over from last seasons Asian Champions League campaign. An attacking and technical midfield triumvirate was given the nod, with Yojiro Takahagi, Kearyn Baccus & Nick Kalmar flanked by Shannon Cole & Mark Bridge, Juric the tip of the spear while Dean Bouzanis, Nickolai Topor-Stanley, Matthew Spiranovic, Yusuke Tanaka & Antony Golec lined up in the defensive third.
Bouzanis was called into action very early as the Japanese side launched a free kick into the box that deflected off a Kashima players chest, requiring Bouzanis to dive back on his line to keep his clean sheet alive. Yet another injury for the Wanderers to deal with occurred when Shannon Cole suffered a shoulder injury after falling badly while making a tackle, the defender come winger being swiftly replaced by Labinot Haliti. Both sides went into the break scoreless. The best chance of the half came to Kashima, a defensive mixup between Topor-Stanley & Bouzanis giving Shuto a sight on goal that he only managed to fire wide.
The game roared into life early in the second half, a long throw from Tanaka finding the head of Juric, his flick on found the swinging arc of Mark Bridge, and a desperate clearance from Genn Shoji sliced into his own net to open the scoring.
That lead only lasted 15 minutes. Topor-Stanley & Baccus together failed to clear their lines effectively and a lighting break down the right flank gave Fernandes Caio all the space he needed to deliver a cutback that Doi Shoma volleyed expertly past Bouzanis.
Just when it seemed like the Antlers would fire up and add to the domestic woes of Western Sydney, Takahagi popped up with his second goal for the club & a second assist on the night for Bridge, 5 minutes before the end of regulation Trifiro, Takahagi & Bridge combined to retake the lead. Bridge's shot on goal that might have been going just wide being turned in by the Japanese midfielder. Kashima appealed desperately for offside, but replays showed Takahagi was being played onside by his marker at the time of the pass and the goal stood.
Bridge sealed the win deep inside injury time, as the Wanderers killed the game off smartly, the high press forced an error, Bridge receiving the ball on the edge of the area. The all time leading goal scorer hitting a blackjack with his 21st goal for the club.
The Wanderers next match is the Sydney Derby, at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday the 28th of February.
Kashima Antlers vs Western Sydney Wanderers
Date and Local Kick-Off Time at Stadium: Wednesday 25 February 2015 - 7:00PM
Sydney Kick-Off Time: 9:00PM EDT
Round: Group Stage
Competition: Asian Champions League
Location: Kashima, Japan
Stadium: Kashima Football StadiumClick here to view the record
A first half lead from a Labinot Haliti goal was washed away by a sea of inept defending as Adelaide United used an utterly stupid red card from Matthew Spiranovic to score a winner deep in stoppage time.
With only a dozen games left for the Wanderers they needed to pick up three points to have any realistic chance of making the final series. Coming off an away draw against Newcastle the visitors started well, taking the game to the quick passing Adelaide reds. They started the game with a series of corners, and eventually took the lead through a set piece of a different type.
Nikita Rukavytsa delivered a free kick from the right flank that Eugene Galekovic eleceted to punch away. The punch was poor, the ball flying high into the sky. As it fell to ground Brendon Santalab took on a volley, his shot not hit particularly well but good enough to skim across the Adelaide penalty area. With the Adelaide defence standing still, Labinot Haliti on his 150th A-League appearance and his 75th total appearance for the Wanderers, had a simple tap-in, gambling at the back post like a good striker should. Unlike in Newcastle, Haliti was onside this time and it was 1-0 in the 18th minute.
Santalab, who had suffered a nasty looking shoulder injury early in the match eventually made way for Tomi Juric in the 34th minute, while on the other side Osama Malik turned his ankle horribly while making a tackle and was taken off in favour of Craig Goodwin.
Adelaide regrouped tactically at the break, with Josep Gombau sending his men out playing 3 at the back and this formation switch was the catalyst for the Adelaide comeback. 5 minutes after half-time Adelaide restored parity. A free kick deep in the Wanderers half was launched pointlessly long by Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Juric could do nothing but chest the ball down straight into the path of Sergio Cirio who kept the ball moving for Marceleo Carrusca. Carrusca sent Bruce Djite on a mission in behind the Wanderers backline, Spiranovic was outpaced by the big striker, and with Ante Covic flying out of his goal to the edge of the penalty area, Djite slotted through the legs of Covic into the open net.
It summed up the Wanderers season in one short burst of action. A pointless long ball launched from deep in Western Sydney's own half, the striker having no opportunity to get the ball to feet and thus losing it, the midfield missing in action allowing the opposition to play through with ease and the goalkeeper & defence getting in each others way.
Unlike Gombau, Popovic elected yet again not to change his formation or switch things tactically, bringing on a set of like for like changes that saw Romeo Castelen return to the pitch for the first time in months, and Jason Trifiro brought on to hopefully plug up the midfield.
Adelaide on the other hand were pushing for a winner and nearly had one after an hour. Wonderkid Awer Mabil turned Sam Gallaway inside out before cutting back to Sergio Cirio. The Reds #9 seemingly had a tap-in, only for a deflection to have kept the ball up in the air longer than was required, Cirio scooping his volley over the crossbar.
Western Sydney had two chances to pull ahead once more. Tomi Juric was played in on goal by Castelen, helped to stay onside by Adelaide defenders, but couldn't blast his shot through at the near post. Poljak had one of the worst shots of the night, an unpressurised attempt from the edge of the area that might have left the stadium.
Shortly after Juric's effort the game swung yet again in the favour of Adelaide. Spiranovic, having already received a yellow card for stopping Djite from getting in behind, was sucked into squaring up to Isaias, who fell to the ground in a dramatic heap from a soft Spiranovic shoulder barge. It was nothing short of a brain snap from the central defender and one that will keep him out of the Sydney Derby, where he can sit alongside Mateo Poljak who will be suspended also for an accumulation of yellow cards.
From that moment on there was only going to be one winner. Adelaide took all three points in the 92nd minute, Tarek Elrich bursting in behind the redeployed Poljak at right fullback, the ex-Wanderer cut the ball back for Cirio who made no mistake in slotting the match winner to the delight of the 9,000 strong crowd.
I don't want to sound like a broken record but the time is now for changes from Popovic. If it wasn't for the Champions League group stage starting this midweek, this Wanderers season would be over already. Gombau's tactical adjustment effectively won him the game, while Popovic stood on his heels, sticking to his 4-2-3-1 formation that every club in Australia knows how to counter, and was punished for it.
While I doubt there will be any serious discussion at this point for removing the Asian Champions League winning coach from the position he has held since this club began, if he continues to send out his troops week after week playing the same way, and continues to lose both in the A-League & Champions League, there will come a time towards the end of the season where the owners of the Wanderers will wonder if keeping Popovic for a fourth season is in the best interests of the club.
The Wanderers next match is against Kashima Antlers in the Asian Champions League group stage, on Wednesday the 25th of February, kick-off at 9pm Sydney time.
Adelaide United vs Western Sydney Wanderers
Date and Local Kick-Off Time at Stadium: Saturday 21 February 2015 - 7:00PM
Sydney Kick-Off Time: 7:30PM EDT
Competition: A-League Regular Season
Location: Adelaide, South Australia
Stadium: Hindmarsh StadiumClick here to view the record