The Western Sydney Wanderers faced the Wellington Phoenix at home at the Western Sydney Stadium with their finals hopes clinging by a thread, a thread that might as well have been severed following a 2-1 loss.
With only three games left in the regular season the two sides came into the game locked on 31 points each in 8th & 9th place, with Wellington's 5 goal difference advantage putting them ahead of the home side. With the last finals place being 5 points away a loss for either team while not mathematically fatal to their chances, would make those chances slim to none. Carl Robinson deployed Keanu Baccus in the attacking midfield role in place of James Troisi, while Mitch Duke was playing his last game for the Wanderers in his loan stint due to his call up for the Australian National team's World Cup Qualifiers that begin on the 4th of June.
The Wanderers had the run of the opening stages, with Baccus' move forward working well as he found open space between the lines and the defenders. He had a cutback blocked and shortly after Mitch Duke had a tough chance from his head after a Ziggy Gordon cross into the middle of the penalty area. Duke then gave away a foul at the far post from a Tate Russell cross that Oli Sail had covered in any case.
Reno Piscopo took a knock in the 10th mintue, with Ziggy Gordon ensuring that the winger wasn't getting around him, he fell to the turf awkwardly and spent several minutes recieving treatment. Gordon escaped a yellow card as the ball was already heading out for a throw in when the foul took place. Cam Devlin took a shot from long range after a clearance, his swiping right foot sliced the ball up and over the crossbar. Piscopo went down once again in the 13th minute, a slight nudge in the back appeared to worsen the shoulder injury from the Gordon tackle, perhaps indicating a break or dislocation and he was replaced by ex-Wanderer Jaushua Sotirio.
The Wanderers two curses this season, conceding from set pieces and going behind early once again reared their ugly head. From a 25th minute corner the ball fell at the near post, Graham Dorrans could only managed to knock the ball onto his own crossbar, it fell at the back post for David Ball and he couldn't miss at closer than point blank fange.
It didn't take long for the Wanderers to find the back of the net. Their own corner was hit by Mark Natta twice, then Thomas Aquilina before rebounding a 4th time to Bruce Kamau and he fired through a sea of legs. After a short VAR review asking if Sail had his vision impeded by an offside McGowan the goal was allowed to stand, bringing the game back level at 1-1. A 37th minute free kick against Ziggy Gordon gave Clayton Lewis a chance, he lined up a 25 yard strike, curling it over the wall, beating Margush but not the far post.
The set piece failures rose again to help Wellington to regain the lead. With Margush blocked off by David Ball he was stuck in no-man's land, and Ziggy Gordon got a shove in the back that allowed Tomer Hemed nod the ball hom from 3 yards out. The VAR didn't concern itself with the push in the back or the block and Wellington had the lead 2-1.
Minutes before half-time the Wanderers should have won a penalty from a set piece as Ziggy Gordon was rugby tackled in the box and taken to ground. Kurt Ams decided it wasn't a penalty in the live action and VAR apparently ignored the incident with play continuing until the break.
The Wanderers kicked off for the second half, immediately lost the ball and allowed Sotirio to take advantage of a fall from Ziggy Gordon and his shot required a good save from Margush to keep the scoreline 2-1. Tim Payne nearly scored his first ever A-League goal with a flashing near post header that was tipped over for another one, which fell to Devlin and forced another jumping save out of Margush. The 54th minute it was Bruce Kamau having a chance, when a Dorarns free kick was blocked by the wall, Aquilina lofted the ball back into the mixer, Kamau reacted quickest but his stabbed foot shot went straight at the Wellington keeper.
Robinson reacted to the deficit with one of his trademark 60th minute substitutions, taking off the Wanderers top goalscorer Bruce Kamau to bring on Bruce Kamau. Ziggy Gordon continued his wild night with an awful late challenge on Sotirio, he flew in, missed the ball and collected Sotirio flush on the ankle. Earlier in the life of the VAR that foul would have likely seen an upgrade from his yellow card to a straight red but he remained on the pitch.
Ibini had his first shot of the game in the 66th minute, with Duke pouncing on a mishit pass from Devlin and launching a lightning attack that Ibini finished with a shot that blazed well over the bar. Jordon Mutch & Scott McDonald lined up to replace Steven Ugarkovic, after his final action, a long range free kick that went wide. Ziggy Gordon did end up leaving the game early but not through what would have been a deserved red card. McDonald should have equalised with his first touch of the game, the ball falling for Mutch, his shot outside the box was soft but only pushed away by Sail into the feet of the newly arrived striker but he scooped it over the bar when everyone expected it to burst the roof of the net. Nicolai Muller came on for Baccus in the 79th minute.
The Wanderers threw everyone forward as the game moved into the four minutes of stoppage time, the big chance fell inside the 6 yard box to Tate Russell after a rebound from Sotirio, he smashed the ball but Payne threw out a boot and blocked the shot. Even if the Wanderers pulled off two wins in the last games of the season it would still take a minor miracle to make the Top 6 with a bevy of results having to go their way. Once again in the post-game press conference Robinson elected to blame the players for their poor defending rather than take responsibility for not having fixed the glaring issue after a season in charge. It remains to be seen if the club ownership will pull the trigger on another one season sacking but it is clear the patience of the supporters has already run out, the blood moon in the sky at full time perhaps a portent for the end of Robinson's tenure as the Wanderers coach.
The Wanderers next match is against Brisbane Roar on Sunday May 30th at Parramatta with kick-off at 4:05PM.