The Western Sydney Wanderers have gone top of the A-League ladder with Nicolai Muller scoring the only goal of a hard fought 1-0 win against a combative Central Coast Mariners team tonight in Gosford.
With a two-day turnaround Carl Robinson elected to make several changes. He rotated his squad from the Sydney Derby, giving an A-League debut to 18 year old central defender Mark Natta in place of Dylan McGowan who succumbed to an ankle injury, swapped starter Nicolai Muller for Bernie Ibini and bought Phillip Cancar onto the bench in favour of Ali Auglah.
The opening stages were free flowing with the play running up and down the pitch. Daniel Margush made a great low save after rushing out to block Stefan Nigro being able to take a shot. Simon Cox should have opened the scoring after 10 minutes, with a wide free kick taken by James Troisi that Cox met unmarked 6 yards out but skied over the bar. Matt Simon had a similar chance up the other end, but his header was taken while jumping backwards and lacked the power to stop Margush turning it over for a corner.
The Wanderers attempted to take back the momentum but were frustrated with constant cynical & dangerous fouls from the Mariners. Matt Simon, Daniel De Silva, Jack Clisby and Nigro were part of the anti-football fouling tactic but referee Kurt Ams decided none of them were worthy of further sanction than a free kick. Troisi released Cox with a chip over the Mariners retreating defence but the striker didn't connect well and blazed it well wide.
Matt Simon then should have been sent off on multiple occasions in rapid succession. The first one he fouled Ziggy Gordon in the Wanderers penalty area, then kicked him while Gordon was on the ground and not long after smashed Keanu Baccus with a swinging elbow while in possession. Kurt Ams finally took the tiniest measure of protective action, giving Simon a well-earned first yellow card when in any league with good officials he'd have been down the tunnel already. The rest of the half continued with the home side fouling the Wanderers, and the Mariners few attacks and the game went to the sheds at 0-0.
15 minutes of the second half had expired before another big chance. De Silva found Josh Nisbet, and they played a 1-2 pass that ended with Nisbet shanking a right footed strike, it rebounded back to him and his second attempt struck the crossbar. Clisby ended the action by shooting over the crossbar. Robinson had seen enough, and bought on Muller and Yeboah in place of Troisi & Cox. The match calmed down once again as both teams recovered from the frantic initial minutes.
Western Sydney took the lead after 80 minutes of punishing anti-football from their opponents, they got a slice of luck that allowed Muller to fire home for a 1-0 lead. The Mariners didn't clear a long ball from Natta, Yeboah swivelled on the ball and shot for goal, it was blocked off the boot but it fell to the German as he followed in the action and he couldn't miss from 6 yards out even if Mark Birghitti managed a fingertip touch.
In the 93rd minute Bruce Kamau had a chance to ice the game, when Muller's disguised through ball found the substitute but his shot skidded on the turf and out for a goal kick. Fortunately it mattered nought, as the Mariners couldn't find a chance in the dying moments and Kurt Ams whistle sounded for the last time to catapult the Wanderers to the top of the table. It was a deserved win for the Wanderers, the only team trying to play football on the night.
The Wanderers next game is against the Newcastle Jets in Parramatta on Friday January 29th, with kick-off at 7:05PM EDT.