Victory 2 Wanderers 0
Willing contest ... Wanderers defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley tries to cut off Melbourne Victory midfielder Guilherme Finkler’s path towards goal on Saturday. Photo: Anthony Johnson
IT SHOULD have been the moment that set up Western Sydney Wanderers for a win - the 15th-minute send-off of Melbourne Victory's Sam Gallagher - but coach Tony Popovic later rued the red card as something that put his players under pressure.
The Wanderers started the match on the attack. Japanese import Shinji Ono signalled his team's intent when he took an audacious shot at goal from halfway with the game not even two minutes old.
With almost 10,000 spectators urging them on, the Wanderers ran, passed and ran some more, probing the Victory's defence.
The pressure built on the Ange Postecoglou-coached visitors and in the 15th minute something gave when Gallagher received a red card for bringing down Dino Kresinger as he braced for a one-on-one shot at the goal.
Postecoglou later said that Gallagher may have been "clipped" first in the tumble, while Popovic lamented his players' subsequent reaction.
"I felt the players seemed a little stressed and a little nervous having the extra player," he said. "They kind of forced things a little too often, which was a shame because the start was very good.
"As we showed last week [after beating Perth despite Youssouf Hersi being red-carded] it's difficult to play against 10 men."
There were other telling moments, too. An own goal via an unfortunate Michael Beauchamp deflection swung the game in the Victory's favour only minutes before half-time. "It gave them something to hold on to and [with] the pace they have on the break they were always dangerous," Popovic said.
Archie Thompson handed the home side a lesson in ruthlessness when he drilled the ball home in the 60th minute after a Marco Rojas-inspired counter-attack.
"That's why he's still in the Socceroos, that's why he's a top player," Popovic said. "Top players can do that - one chance, one goal. We probably huffed and puffed a bit without creating too much."
However, Popovic still took many positives from the hit-out.
"Overall, we were pleased with the way we moved the ball," he said. "It's just in the final third I think we got anxious and really forced things when we didn't have to.
"There's heads down in the dressing room but come Monday we'll pick them up again. It would've been good if we could've scored that first goal because I think we could've gone on with the game."
Postecoglou was proud of the win, revealing that in recent weeks he and his players acknowledged if they were to become a genuine force in the competition they needed to display "character and resilience".
"I thought today we were tremendous in that area," he said. "If we keep showing that resilience and intestinal fortitude and couple that with our football slowly getting better, we'll be a tough team to beat,"
Postecoglou said he told his team at half-time, after taking a surprise lead, that they dare not shut up shop.
"My main message was when we get the ball it's important we're really positive and try to hurt the opposition again because obviously they'd have to take some risks to open us up. With the players we've got, we're always going to be a threat going forward, whether we're home or away or even with 10 men.''