The Gombau Era has kicked off in earnest with the Wanderers taking all 3 points against an ill-disciplined Central Coast Mariners outfit tonight in Gosford.
While the VAR will dominate the headlines after the Mariners finished the game with 9 men, the home side let themselves slip defensively before the referee was involved in the game and the Wanderers took advantage with two good goals. Josep Gombau elected to make 5 changes including bringing back talismanic striker Brendon Santalab, but his key decision was keeping young midfielder Keanu Baccus and he pulled the strings with a man of the match performance.
Near on the half hour mark the Wanderers took the lead. From a Mariners corner, the Wanderers broke down the left with Mark Bridge, he cut back inside & looked for one of the two free Wanderers players. His pass picked out Santalab, with three touches to bring the ball down & head toward goal he unleashed a long strike at goal that curled past Ben Kennedy at the near post. It was a just reward for the Wanderers who looked far better than the Mariners, and were clearly determined to bring some respectability back to the side after their 5-0 derby hammering.
The Mariners best chance of the half fell to Connor Pain who accidentally clipped a ball that nearly lobbed over Janjetovic only for the keeper to palm the ball away.
The Wanderers kept up the pressure after returning from half-time and they doubled their lead in the 49th minute. Keanu Baccus danced merrily around a couple of Mariners defenders before finding Bridge, moved it on to Santalab, and with a cutback found Alvaro Cejudo absolutely free in the penalty area. The winger-come-midfielder took a easing touch onto his left then his shot gave Kennedy no chance at a save.
While the Central Coast had the occasional foray into the Wanderers half their chances at getting a point from the match took a huge hit after a piece of defensive madness from Wout Brama. Having been kicking & shoving Roly Bonevacia all night, he tested the refrees patience one time too many with a studs up raking of the calf from behind. After initially giving the Mariner a yellow card, the VAR intervened to suggest that it could be worthy of a red card, and with the benefit of a pitchside replay, referee Alex King changed his mind & pulled out a straight red.
The night went from bad to worse for the hosts in the 77th minute. Fullback Jake McGing was beaten for pace by substitute Kearyn Baccus and his awful lunging challenge caught the midfielder in the ankle. Once again the VAR was in play, and King reviewed the footage and went once again to the back pocket to send off McGing & put the Mariners down to 9 men.
The Wanderers closed out the match comfortably, while some may have taken protest at their lack of initiative to seek a 3rd goal, after the start of the Gombau era the club simply needed little more than all three points and to get off the pitch without anyone else following McGing & Brama down the tunnel for an early shower.
From the moment the VAR was introduced it's opponents have been belittled and called "conspiracy theorists" despite the clear bias the VAR has shown to the FFA's favoured clubs Melbourne City & Sydney FC. Suddenly tonight however, despite the earlier game having a much clearer failure of the VAR to fix an incorrect handball, only once the Wanderers were the beneficiary of the VAR has the media & other members of the A-League community turned against the VAR. Instead of Josep Gombau receiving praise for picking his first win, the attention will be on two VAR calls that were down to the simple fact that two Mariners players forgot how to tackle properly.
In November when Cornthwaite was sent off for a clearly non-deliberate handball? We heard nothing. When Reira was pulled down in the box & VAR declined to award a penalty? Nothing. When Adelaide United scored with an offside player and VAR declined to overturn the goal? Nothing. When VAR missed Brosque handballing before awarding SFC a penalty? Nothing. When Milligan nearly broke Jumpei's leg and didn't receive so much as a yellow card that would have seen Melbourne Victory down to 9? Nothing.
Nothing. Until tonight, the only major criticism of the VAR from media & those at a "high place" in football stemmed from the time taking to review things. But tonight it was different. Perhaps this will be a catalyst for the VAR to finally be removed, and hopefully with the end of the current FFA regieme at the hands of FIFA, a new set of referees & bosses at the FFA who can stamp out the horrendous bias they show in their decision making.
The VAR is a blight on football and the trial should be immediately terminated.