Bad memories ... Alessandro Del Piero scores in the first Sydney derby. Photo: Brendan Esposito
THE first Sydney derby will go down as one of the A-League's most memorable nights, capped off by a moment to remember from Alessandro Del Piero, who calmly tucked home the rebound from a saved penalty to claim all three points.
It evokes a warm, fuzzy glow in most football observers, except, perhaps for Tony Popovic. The Western Sydney coach has a photographic memory, especially for matches his team loses.
Although it was a landmark moment for the game - and Popovic conceded the atmosphere was nothing short of ''amazing'' - it has left a bitter taste in his mouth.
"I look back on that game, and I think the first 30 minutes we were a little bit overawed by the occasion, and we were certainly off the pace at the start of the game,'' Popovic said. ''We blew into the game in the second half, we had to chase a goal and we had some opportunities late in the game. I think we'll learn from that experience, and I expect us to be a lot better this time around.''
This time around is on Saturday night at Allianz Stadium, when the fourth-placed Wanderers make the trek across town to the east, where the Sky Blues will be hoping to record back-to-back wins for the first time this year.
Popovic said his players had to embrace the moment rather than let it overcome them. ''This is that challenge that faces us,'' he said. ''I think it comes down to the players. They're evolving as a group and they didn't handle the derby atmosphere very well as a group in the first half. That's a fact.
''I don't know what it was - I think they got intimidated by the atmosphere or got caught up in the occasion but the young players didn't really handle it well. That was round three, this is round 11. There's a lot more confidence. I think they've grown as people and players since then.''
Stadium officials are predicting a crowd of 25,000, eclipsing the numbers at a sold-out Parramatta Stadium in October.
"With almost 20,000 people there, the noise was electric and it was something I wasn't sure I'd see here but it certainly reminded me of games in Europe. That's something we want to recreate,'' Popovic said. ''I'm sure it will be a big crowd here. They've come off a win, we have as well. It will be a special game, and I'm sure these players will certainly deal with that expectation and a derby atmosphere better than the first time around."
Popovic reckons he won't need to hype up his players any more than necessary, saying his charges should have all the motivation they need.
''The first time around we kept a lid on it and you can deal with [the hype] in many different ways - it's a special game, but it's still a game where there's three points on the line.''
One player famous for his love of the big occasion is Mark Bridge, having scored in two separate A-League grand finals and scorer of countless goals against Melbourne Victory when he played for Sydney FC.
The Wanderers survived without his presence last week after the striker succumbed to a groin strain but the medical staff haven't ruled him out this week. The 27-year-old went through a draining session of sprints at training on Wednesday, and seemed to emerge unscathed.
''He's touch and go actually,'' Popovic said. ''He's going to do some work and our physios are quite pleased with how he's going - he's a little better than what I thought as well. He'll do a fitness test [on Thursday] and he's probably 50-50 at the moment, which is better odds than what I thought he'd be.''