Western Sydney Wanderers made a giant stride to avoiding the wooden spoon after clinching a laboured fightback against Adelaide United with Mark Bridge scoring the winner in his 200th A-League game.
Just one game before the end of their season, the Wanderers finally got off the bottom of the table after overcoming Adelaide, who were reduced to 10 men when Nigel Boogaard became the most sent-off man in the history of the competition after he collected his sixth red card. Escaping the embarrassment of the wooden spoon is now a task completely in the Wanderers’ control as they only have to equal the result of Newcastle Jets next week to ensure they don’t finish bottom six months after winning the Asian Champions League.
Making that leap against the Reds however was far from pretty.
“It was very good to see the great character of the team,” Wanderers coach Tony Popovic said. “It wasn’t a great first half from both sides, we didn’t really impose ourselves in the game but in the second half the players responded very well.”
After 20 minutes of football that was so dull not even the so-called purists could put a positive spin on it, Adelaide finally injected some life in the contest. From a corner, Osama Malik lashed a volley through a crowded box that appeared destined for the back of the net only for Wanderers’ midfielder Mateo Poljak to make a last gasp deflection.
In such a stagnant first half, it seemed there would be nothing in the way of chances made from open play. A lack of creativity and intent made it seem like there were 22 defensive midfielders on the park – such was the workman-like approach. It was fitting that the only other chance of the half fell to Bruce Djite of Adelaide via another corner. He rose highest to power a header forcing a fine save from Ante Covic.
However, that all changed with the last moment of the half. Sergio Cirio brought the match out of the doldrums on the stroke of halftime with a superb finish well beyond the quality of the match. A clever build-up gave Cirio an inch of space on the edge of the box and the Spaniard unleashed a curling right foot drive into the top corner of the net.
The Wanderers’ most likely response was always going to come through the darting and unpredictable runs of Romeo Castelen. Drifting between markers, he set up a chance for Mark Bridge to score in his milestone match but a powerful drive went no further than Eugene Galekovic’s gloves.
On the hour mark, the match turned on it’s head. Bridge was played through on goal and certain to score in his 200th match when Boogaard brought him down inside the box. Penalty, red card and game on when Tomi Juric tucked the ball away into the corner.
Ten minutes later, the Wanderers took a lead few expected given their first half performance but it was a poignant strike for one of their few remaining foundation players. Bridge made his 200th game all the more special by scoring his 45th goal, latching on to a Juric header.
With the numerical advantage, Western Sydney never looked to surrender their lead from then. An acrobatic bicycle kick from Miguel Palanca was Adelaide’s best chance but the evergreen goalkeeper Covic made a comfortable save.
The loss was not only a blow for Adelaide’s hopes of a premiership but also ensures they cannot finish in the top two and receive a bye in the first week of the finals.
“Of course [I am disappointed] It was the objective that every single team has, to have this place in the Asian Champions League,” Adelaide coach Josep Gombau said.
However for the Wanderers, it means they are now likely to avoid the wooden spoon.
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