Star quality ... Shinji Ono of the Wanderers. Photo: Getty Images
WESTERN Sydney Wanderers' 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory on Saturday night moved them to within a point of top spot, but it was the performance rather than the result that drew the plaudits from their coaching staff.
The Wanderers held out the A-League's traditional powerhouse to continue proving their credentials in their debut season and assistant coach Ante Milicic heralded the character his players displayed in adverse conditions.
The visitors finished the match with a mere 39 per cent share of possession but maintained their tactical discipline and structure to become just the second team to beat Melbourne Victory at home this season.
The club had already turned their attentions to their next match against Perth Glory by the time they returned to Sydney on Sunday but their heroics at AAMI Park will not be forgotten. As the Wanderers aim to continue their record winning streak, Milicic says their match against the Victory was a big test and values the performance as one of the season's benchmarks.
''Of course I'm happy with the result but the most important thing was the performance,'' Milicic said. ''I think being away from home playing against a quality opposition against their fans was a big test for us. There was second spot on the line so I'm happy with the performance and to get the three points away from home.''
The debutants have captured the attention and imagination of many by emerging as the strongest challengers for silverware after starting the season as the bookies favourites for the wooden spoon. They're seen as this season's dark horse, but those within the camp are not surprised to see the club sit so high on the table.
''If you asked me at the beginning of the season, of course we would be surprised but now if you see how we play, how consistent we play, you won't be surprised,'' man of the match Jerome Polenz said.
The 26-year-old German midfielder-come-defender stood firm to deny the hosts an equaliser minutes after the break with a last-gasp tackle that denied Andrew Nabbout a simple finish from six yards out. It was a moment that regained momentum for the Wanderers and he says they believe a title in their first year is now well within their grasp. ''We're mentally very strong and we look from round to round, and we were good in that way so far and we will keep it going like that,'' Polenz said. ''If you look where we are right now, we cannot say now we can't win the title.''
Central Coast Mariners' shock loss away to cellar-dwellers Glory on Saturday resulted in just a point separating them from second-placed Wanderers and their March 2 clash in Gosford is being primed as a potential premiership decider.
The Mariners are the only club the Wanderers have not defeated but have the added confidence of their winning streak.
''In a one-off game, everything is possible. We've played them twice and we haven't beaten them yet but we're getting better, we're improving and I'm sure we'll be prepared for that game when it comes around,'' Milicic said.