The Western Sydney Wanderers A-League season is over, with a 6-5 penalty shootout loss after a 1-1 draw against Brisbane Roar.
After a first half where both goalkeepers produced stunning saves to keep the score at 0-0, just seconds before half-time Avram Papadopoulos clattered into Brendon Santalab from behind, with referee Jerrad Gillet pointing to the spot. Terry Antonis stepped up to the mark and blasted his shot through the hands of Michael Theo to make it 1-1.
The visitor's lead only lasted until the 55th minute. With the Wanderers attack stunted by an uncalled handball from the Roar, they picked the ball off the Wanderers and went straight up field on the counter. Thomas Broich passed to Borello, and the young winger rolled his shot into the goalpost. Fortunately it rebounded straight to Jamie Maclaren and he made no mistake with the empty net.
In the final seconds of regulation time Brendon Santalab delivered a sterling cross from deep & wide and substitute Jaushua Sotirio should have put the Wanderers into a Sydney Derby semi-final. Instead Sotirio blasted the shot into the stands.
During extra-time, the game turned to Brisbane's favour as a result of a truly moronic brain snap from Sotirio. Already on a yellow card awarded minutes after he came onto the field in the 87th minute, he harshly followed through with an incredibly late tackle on Corey Brown in a nothing situation chasing down a hopeless long ball. He was instantly shown his second yellow card and the following red. It put the Wanderers on the backfoot and it was only a miracle that the Roar couldn't put the game away on the field.
As a shootout loomed, the Roar were forced into making a goalkeeping substitution, with Michael Theo being replaced by Jamie Young, as a result of a coming together between Theo & Antonis after a scramble for a loose ball.
With the game deadlocked at 1-1 after 120 minutes of frentic finals football, it fell to the penalty shootout to separate the teams. Dimas won the toss but against all conventional wisdom elected to shoot second. Each team scored their penalties, with Borello, D'Agostino, Maclaren, Devere & Kristensen all succeeding, and for the Wanderers it was Antonis, Dimas, Nico, Hamill & Cornthwaite.
Sudden death loomed, while Tommy Oar made no mistake, Jumpei took the 6th penalty, never looked comfortable, then fired it straight into the hands of Jamie Young.
The match followed the pattern of so many contests this season, with the Wanderers being dominant with possession but doing nothing to trouble the opposition keepers.
Tony Popovic massively failed in his recruitment this season, keeping Dimas instead of Andreu, while signing 3 massive flops as foreigners, the only mildly successful import was Nico. Even he was relatively subdued compared to the imports from other finals teams. After bringing back Bulut, the fan favourite was pointlessly turfed back out again after a handful of matches. Then after failing to sign a sorely needed foreign striker in January, Ryan Griffiths was picked up, did nothing and will leave without making any meaingful impact at all.
If Popovic is to remain as the Wanderers coach, he needs to sharpen up his scouting skills quicksmart, and get sent on a course that shows him how to play football without using multiple defensive midfielders. This season only picked up a modicum of momentum after the attack killing Dimas & Pinatares combination was sidelined, simply because the rest of the midfielders in the squad will often move towards the opposition goal after getting the ball, not backwards.
This was a stop-start season where any hope of winning the Premiership was lost in week one with a 4-0 thrashing by Sydney FC. Next seasons squad needs to be in winning form from week one. No "we are looking better every week" after a loss. No "that player is getting adjusted to our conditions" when they fail to perform. If Popovic cannot deliver a winning side & tactics from the first league game, he should step down now. After all, he isn't going to get such nicety from owners of the foreign league clubs I assume he has ambitions to lead one day.