A 69th minute set piece stunner from Shannon Cole gave Western Sydney a sniff of a title winning goal, but they were unable to put a 2nd past a 10 man Sydney FC who had taken the lead in the 34th minute when a pass from Nikolai Topor-Stanley went horribly wrong and fell to the feet of Del Piero who put away his 13th goal of the season.
Western Sydney knew that a win would see them lift the A-League Premiers Plate at their home ground with their local rivals watching on. Their task was hampered by a long list of absent players. Against a full strength Sydney FC squad, the Wanderers had Captain Michael Beauchamp suffer a late withdrawal due to injury, Youssouf Hersi out suspended, Aaron Mooy unable to recover from a knee injury picked up last week, Jerome Polenz several weeks away from recovery for his quad strain & goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson out for three months with a fractured vertebrae.
Tiago Calvano's off the ball foul on Mark Bridge set the scene early, a bitter struggle with no quarter given or asked. A theatrical dive in the 20th minute by Ali Abbas made a meal of slight contact from Shannon Cole, and the ex-Sydney FC defender was awarded by Referee Kris Griffiths-Jones the first of an astonishing 8 Yellow (3 to Western Sydney and 5 to Sydney FC) and 2 Straight Red Cards (split 1 apiece). The free kick was taken by Del Piero, and he slammed it over the wall, forcing Covic into a double fisted palm over the crossbar.
The 34th minute saw Western Sydney go behind, a calamitous error at the back taken full toll on by Del Piero. Under no pressure Topor-Stanley turned to find his stand-in defensive partner Iacopo La Rocca only to make a horrible weak and badly directed pass that Del Piero latched onto, arrowing in on goal before shifting the ball to his left foot and striking. Ante Covic managed to get a fingertip to the ball but it wasn't enough to turn the ball away from goal.
As half-time loomed Shinji Ono lined up a long range effort that was blocked. The ball fell into the path of Mark Bridge, the Wanderers leading goalscorer and his curling first time effort on the right foot was exceptionally saved low down by Ivan Necevski with the ball trickling agonisingly around the far post.
Before the resumption of play in the second half both sides made changes. Sydney FC replaced Lucas Neill by Adam Griffiths as the Captain of the Australian National Team was unable to overcome soreness in his calf. For Western Sydney Tarek Elrich replaced Adam D'Apuzzo in what appeared to be a tactical sub. The injury worries for the Wanderers continued when Shinji Ono left the field for Labinot Haliti due to a groin strain.
The next major incident was Sydney FC losing a player, but in a manner that didn't allow them to replace the player. Brett Emerton allowed the ball to run beyond him and in his quest to regain possession Emerton's lunging studs up challenge collected Shannon Cole in the ankle, an incredibly dangerous play that could have broken the ankle or leg of the Wanderer. Griffiths-Jones had no hesitation in issuing a straight red, despite Emerton already being on a yellow.
From here Western Sydney took full control of a match that they had begun to regain the momentum of after the break. Dino Kresinger then turned that pressure into position, earning a free kick from Adam Griffiths. With Shinji Ono off the field the only set piece taker of note was Shannon Cole. It appeared that Ivan Necevski had failed to setup his wall correctly, and the poor positioning allowed Cole to curl the ball around it and past the diving keeper.
From that moment the only question to remain in this match would be if Western Sydney could score the goal that would secure the Premiership, or if Sydney FC could possibly secure their finals campaign on the counter. Necevski nearly allowed Dino Kresinger or Labinot Haliti to score that goal, when Griffiths failed to clear a ball with Necevski looming large, it rebounded off the keeper and the Wanderers were unlucky that it fell to a spot that neither Haliti or Kresinger could capitalise, Sydney FC managing to block and clear the ball away.
With 5 minutes to play it was Cole saving a goal rather than scoring it, Yairo Yau burst past Tarek Elrich and delivered a cut back to Joel Chianese, his shot beating Covic but Cole was well placed to head the ball out of the danger zone. As the 90 minutes ended, Cole had chance to become the hero with another set piece, this time however the wall was correctly placed and it did the job by stopping the shot.
With the initial four minutes of injury time extended by blatant time-wasting from Calvano, Western Sydney's hopes of securing the Premiership died when La Rocca was dismissed. As La Rocca attempted to dribble the ball forward Terry Antonis dragged him by the shirt, La Rocca then appeared to lash out with an elbow at the Sydney FC midfielder. Despite awarding a foul to Western Sydney, La Rocca was sent for the field. La Rocca's hands fell to his face, he apologised to Antonis & then Wanderers manager Tony Popovic before leaving the field. It killed what little time remained and the game soon ended 1-1.
For the Western Sydney Wanderers the 1 point enables them to secure the premiership with a draw or victory over Newcastle Jets in the final round even if Central Coast win both their match against Adelaide on Sunday and their final match of the season.
The Wanderers next match is against the Newcastle Jets at Hunter Stadium, Newcastle, on Good Friday Public Holiday, the 29th of March at 5:30pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time.