WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS 3 PERTH GLORY 1
Time to celebrate: Aaron Mooy of the Wanderers. Photo: Getty Images
For the first time in what seemed a small eternity, the Western Sydney Wanderers weren't in the top two when they stepped onto the field on Sunday night.
That unusual predicament, brought on by Central Coast's thumping of Newcastle the night before – added to the news of Sydney's destruction of Melbourne Victory – merited some kind of response. It came with a bullet.
Victory dance: Shinji Ono of the Wanderers. Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Santalab (28min), Mooy (34min), Bridge (71min)||Goals||Smeltz (56min)|
Two first half goals to Brendon Santalab and Aaron Mooy put Australia Day beers on ice before half-time.
The win hoists them back into second but it will do more for the team psychologically. Perth were hot going into this but would leave deflated, yet another example of form being temporary and class permanent.
The festive mood of the occasion seemed to filter into the game as the Wanderers burst to life early, drawing the best from Perth keeper Danny Vukovic and even requiring Riley Woodcock to scoop the ball off the line at one anxious point.
The match had a humming flow about it in the opening half-hour; a kind of reckless abandon. Jacob Burns – like Vukovic, another of the western Sydney products – picked up his token yellow card on 22 minutes for bringing down Youssouf Hersi.
Moments earlier, Hersi slalomed through the Perth defence as if he should have been in Sochi, only for Vukovic to deny the Dutchman.
Hersi had been set up by a blind flick by Ono who himself was in supreme form. Ducking and weaving between Perth's defence, it was hard to imagine how they will cope without the Japanese international when he leaves in a few months.
The inevitable opener came from a breakaway, the kind for which the Wanderers ought to submit a trademark request. Matthew Spiranovic, deployed as a makeshift defensive midfielder, spotted Bridge's run down the left and he in turn laid it on a plate for Santalab to tap home.
Perth were struggling to contain Western Sydney by this point and the second goal was inevitable. Mooy drew Ono's wrath by taking the free-kick, 30 yards from goal. But he was right to fight for it, subsequently belting an effort that deflected off the wall and looped over Vukovic.
The main break was met with a thunderous roar, as if the result was decided. But Perth's Kenny Lowe, in his first visit to Sydney as the man in charge, had a different vision.
The visitors needed to alter the flow if they were any hope of a point. What they needed more than anything, however, was some conviction – which came as Chris Harold spied Shane Smeltz cutting in from the right.
The Kiwi international has laboured with injury and form this campaign but showed his poacher's instincts remained intact, taking advantage of Ante Covic's indecision over whether to stay on his line or block the cross.
William Gallas nearly quashed the comeback single-candidly when an incoming ball ricocheted off his thigh, leaving Vukovic to prevent an own-goal with some remarkable reflexes.
Though one must be patient, one must be concerned about the Frenchman. It seems unimaginable that he played 17 English Premier League games for Tottenham last season.
He looks unfit, slow and incapable of covering much terrain. A couple of nice touches can't hide the questionable return of the $750,000 investment. He despondently shook his head when yanked off by Lowe after 78 minutes.
Any hope was finally snuffed out when Shannon Cole wrong-footed Riley Woodcock, triggering contact, however light it seemed on the replay.
Bridge punched the air as he slotted the penalty under the keeper's flailing glove, confirming that normal service resumed had at Wanderland.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS 3 (Brendon Santalab 28m, Aaron Mooy 35m, Mark Bridge 71m pen) bt PERTH GLORY 1 (Shane Smeltz 56m) at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd: 14,111. Referee: Strebre Delovski.