Wanderers 1 Victory 0
Labinot Haliti of the Wanderers is challenged by Adrian Leijer of the Victory. Photo: Getty Images
Another game, another opponent but the same result for Western Sydney Wanderers as they defeated Melbourne Victory 1-0 at a venue fast becoming the first true fortress of the A-League.
The Wanderers did what they so often do, striking a lethal blow after absorbing plenty of pressure. This time, it was almost routine as last year's club top scorer Mark Bridge capitalised on a worn-down Melbourne Victory to stab home an 82nd-minute winner.
A-League: Wanderers vs Victory
Matthew Spiranovic in action. Photo: Anthony Johnson
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There was a sense of vitriol in the stands and that passion found its way on to the pitch soon after kick-off. Wanderers right-back Jerome Polenz collided with James Troisi while vying for a loose ball and while he accidentally caught his opponent's thigh, there was no hiding the heavy contact from his studs and the German became the first player booked.
The Victory were fluent going forward and showed their attack had more than pace and enthusiasm as they began to push and pull the Wanderers, dropping back when the attacks went stale.
The hosts were on the back foot midway through the first half, though that would have hardly worried coach Tony Popovic. There was enough strength, speed and intelligence in the Wanderers' counter-attack, led by midfield maestros Shinji Ono and Aaron Mooy. After holding the Victory at bay, the hosts began to stretch their opponents and it was no surprise to see them nearly break the deadlock with a sweeping move but Brendon Santalab couldn't apply the finishing touch.
That proved to be the moment the match opened up. A superb long pass by Ono played Shannon Cole through on goal. The winger was caught in two minds as he entered the box and opted to pass rather than shoot when one-on-one with Nathan Coe.
In the 42nd minute, from the resulting play, Archie Thompson twisted his way into the area and fired a right-foot shot that shaved the outside of the upright. As the home fans were still breathing sighs of relief, they were celebrating a goal, or so they thought. Bridge fired a curving shot from the corner of the box and only the outstretched fingertips of Coe kept the score at 0-0 by the break.
The tactical battle continued after the restart as Victory continued to probe for holes in defence of the Wanderers, who would in turn attempt to hit their opponents on the counter. It was going to take a moment of brilliance or an error to lead to another chance, and that's what happened in the 56th minute. Victory left-back Adama Traore lost his grip in the wet, letting a back pass spill forward to Santalab, who seemed certain score, but hesitation and a poor final decision gave Coe the chance to smother the shot.
Wanderers were forced to wait more than 15 minutes for their next chance as attacking play fell victim to a midfield scrap.
It was going to take inspiration from the bench to unlock this tight contest and that arrived in the 82nd minute. Substitute Labinot Haliti fooled his marker with clever use of his body and aimed a fierce low cross across the goal mouth, where an unmarked Bridge did the easy job of rattling the back of the net.