The Western Sydney Wanderers have said goodbye to retiring star Mark Bridge, their erstwhile home at the Sydney Olympic Precinct and a host of departing players with a 1-0 loss to Melbourne Victory in the final game of their A-League season.
With 8th place on the A-League ladder a certainty and Melbourne Victory safely in 3rd there was little to play for except pride and to finish the season with a measure of hope. Unfortunately for the Wanderers they began clearly as second best in the contest, with Melbourne Victory taking full control. The visiting side opened the scoring in the 22nd minute. Thomas Deng in acres of space on the right flank launched a deep cross into the top of the penalty area and he found the attacking run of striker Ola Toivenen, his bullet header blasting past Jack Greenwood in the Wanderers goal.
The Wanderers had precious little attack going forward, their best chances snuffed out by a steady Melbourne defence with only a single shot on target, off the boot of Alexander Baumjohann in the first 45.
Post half-time the Wanderers were much better, rectifying their lack of possession and bring the fight to Victory. Bruce Kamau & Roly Bonevacia both had early shots, followed not long after by Alexander Baumjohann skying an effort on goal. With an hour gone Mark Bridge made his way onto an A-League pitch for the last time, replacing youngster Tate Russell and receiving the Captain's armband.
In the 67th minute Melbourne should have doubled their lead. As the Wanderers attacked from a corner, they made a mess of regaining possession from a clearance, leading Kosta Barbarouses with the ball and no-one but Greenwood ahead of him. With Elvis Kamsoba as his wingman, it looked like you could bet the house on the Victory #9 slotting it past the young goalie, only to poorly mis-control the ball as he dribbled into the penalty area. The ball tangled up in his feet, he spun backwards and attempted a back heel that fell gratefully in the arms of Greenwood. It was the last major chance of the night. The Wanderers suffered their usual failure in attack, inept passing and a lack of end product.
It was revealed during the television broadcast that in addition to Bridge retiring, it would also be the end of the time at the Wanderers for numerous players. Giancarlo Gallifuoco has reportedly rejected a contract extension, Markus Babbel confirmed Baumjohann would be leaving, potentially to join new side Western United in Geelong alongside confirmed signing Josh Risdon. Abraham Majok and Nick Fitzgerald have both been linked to the Central Coast Mariners in addition to a host of NPL/Youth players. Marquee striker Oriol Riera is departing as is his compatriot, fullback Raul Llorente. The Wanderers careers of Danijel Nizic and Vedran Janjetovic are up in the air with Babbel looking to force them out of the club and it is almost certain that Roly Bonevacia will leave, and the retention of numerous off-contract players such as Brendan Hamill, Marc Tokich, Jaushua Sotiro and Rashid Mahazi are all in doubt.
The clean out could be one that makes the roster shedding of Tony Popovic pale in comparison. It would be far from undeserved. The the last 2 seasons have been abysmal on the field, having gone from 6th place in Popovic's last full year, to 7th place under the short lived tenure of Josep Gombau and now a collapse to 8th place in the first season of Markus Babbel's leadership. For anyone paying attention to Babbel during interviews, it is clear that he does not tolerate the level of failure that has taken place, and he will not sit idly by while it happens again.
A new season at the new Western Sydney Stadium at Parramatta demands a deep investment in the playing squad from the ownership consortium fronted by Paul Lederer. The supporters who languished through the three season exodus deserve a return to a playing roster that understands the commitment and work rate expected of those who pull on the Red & Black. A top 4 finish is the absolutely minimum expectation for next year.
The Wanderers open the Western Sydney Stadium for football against English side Leeds United on Saturday the 20th of July.