Crucial draw between Wanderers and Roar

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Hyundai A-League, Season 2013/2014 – Round 18
7:30pm, Friday 7 February, 2014 – at Parramatta Stadium

Western Sydney Wanderers FC 1 (Labinot Haliti 84′)
drew with
Brisbane Roar FC 1 (Besart Berisha 14′)

Western Sydney Wanderers knew their match against competition leaders, Brisbane Roar, was a crucial one, but for all their efforts the best they could secure from the contest at Parramatta Stadium on Friday night was a 1-1 draw and a point, an outcome that did little to enhance the home team’s chances of defending the Premier’s Plate in the current season.

Roar defended as if their life depended on it, taking a leaf out of the reputably sound Wanderers’ own defensive notebook, playing the kind of game that would deliver the result they were looking for; if not a win, then certainly not a loss.

Their early goal, coming through a typically individualistic piece of brilliance from their marquee man, Besart Berisha, made life very hard for the Wanderers, who prefer to defend a lead themselves rather than chase the game.

They threw all of their resources at the visitors, the crowd getting behind them as usual, vocally and spiritedly, but the goals just wouldn’t come.

Coach Tony Popovic was careful with his team selections, keeping most people guessing until the last minute as he tends to do, bringing back wide defenders, Jerome Polenz and Adam D’Apuzzo, while moving Matthew Spiranovic back into the centre alongside Nicolai Topor-Stanley, relegating club captain, Michael Beauchamp, to the ranks of a mere onlooker.

The previous match had seen Spiranovic playing in front of the back four, so whether doing so again might have made a difference nobody will ever know.

It meant that Mateo Poljak could return to the midfield and Aaron Mooy could perhaps enjoy more freedom going forward.

The Wanderers had put on plenty of early pressure, forcing countless corners, both before and after conceding the opening goal, but nothing came of any of them, despite some polished deliveries from both Mooy and Shinji Ono, who also alternated when taking a decent share of free-kicks within shooting range.

Brendon Santalab, the Wanderers’ most deadly striker inside the six yard box, was preferred to Tomi Juric, who only came on later to replace him.

Santalab, who has scored quite a few important goals this season, although used relatively sparingly, just missed connecting with a good ball in by Polenz in the sixth minute arriving a split-second too late to turn the low cross from the right byline in at the far post.

That miss, although perhaps no better than a half chance, was to prove costly.

A fast counter-attack by Brisbane saw the ball moved swiftly out wide on the right and Thomas Broich delivered the ball to the danger area where Berisha was lurking.

Surrounded by opponents, Berisha was clever enough to twist and turn enough to make some space for a shot which, when it came, was all about precision and deliberate placement, low and just inside the post.

After that goal Brisbane kept their shape stubbornly, unconcerned, apparently, about giving away corners or free-kicks and barely chasing a second goal to give them a cushion except when counter-attacks presented themselves, when possession was occasionally turned over.

Youssouf Hersi, the Wanderers dynamic wide man on the right, troubled the Roar defenders enough to earn a spate of free-kicks, with Luke Brattan going close to earning a caution several times after sending the Wanderers’ man tumbling.

Poljak nodded on an Ono corner in the 35th for Hersi to latch onto and when the wiry winger pulled the trigger with a low shot that looked like finding the far post from his spot on the right, Roar keeper, Michael Theo, reacted superbly and instinctively to push the ball just around the post.

Brisbane continued to defend superbly up until half time defying a constant onslaught from the likes of Ono, Poljak and the inevitable Mark Bridge and Santalab, blocking one shot on the line and getting bodies in the way inside the six yard area on many other occasions.

Roar’s best chance came from a 45th minute free-kick by Dimi Petratos which was on target, but not powerful enough to trouble Ante Covic.

The second half kept to much the same pattern, a couple of Brisbane opportunities sandwiched between numerous dead ball situations earned by the home team, none of them profitable.

Finally, after Popovic had sent on Juric and Labinot Haliti for Santalab and Bridge in the 74th minute, the tide began to turn as fresh legs and new ideas began to assert themselves.

Ten minutes after the change Aaron Mooy, who has been improving week by week, his confidence growing, found some space out wide on the right, after turning his opponent.

He sent the ball far post and with very little room to work with Haliti sneaked in right at the last moment to tuck the ball past Theo, exposed by his defenders’ lack of attention to the lurking Haliti, who celebrated as if he had scored a Grand Final winner, oblivious to the certain punishment of a caution as he removed his shirt in celebration, running first towards the fans behind the goal and then to his own bench.

After that equaliser it was Brisbane’s turn to chase the game, forcing some late corners, but their point was hardly a disaster leaving them seven points clear of Wanderers with a game in hand.

As their coach Mike Mulvey commented later, no matter what the outcome of the remaining match between these two sides at the same venue before the end of the season, it’s unlikely that Brisbane will finish behind the Wanderers now and thus won’t have to travel during the Finals’ series after the tough time they had at Parramatta Stadium during that series in 2012-13.

“It was a serious examination for us this evening and we passed it,” he declared.
Popovic seemed unfazed by the loss of a possible two further points, insisting that he is not looking at the table only asking his players to perform well in every game they play.
“And I feel they’ve done that in the last three games,” he said, even if they have only yielded

Match details
Crowd: 16,401

Western Sydney Wanderers FC: Ante Covic (gk); Jerome Polenz (Shannon Cole +78′), Matthew Spiranovic, Nikolai Topor-Stanley (c), Adam D’Apuzzo; Youssouf Hersi, Aaron Mooy, Mateo Poljak, Mark Bridge (Tomi Juric +74′); Shinji Ono, Brendon Santalab (Labinot Haliti +74′)
Subs not used: Jerrad Tyson (rgk), Iacopo Larocca

Cards: Matthew Spiranovic (WSW) 29, Jerome Polenz (WSW) 75

Coach: Tony Popovic


Brisbane Roar FC: Michael Theo (gk); James Donachie, Matthew Smith (c), Jade North, Shane Stefanutto; Ivan Franjic, Liam Miller (Henrique +68′), Luke Brattan, Dimi Petratos (Steven Lustica +89′), Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha
Subs not used: Matthew Acton (rgk), Diogo Ferreira

Cards: Liam Miller (BR) 38, Matthew Smith (BR) 75

Coach: Mike Mulvey

Ratings and points

Referee: Kris Griffiths Jones 8/10
Pitch: 8/10
Game: 9/10

Player Points:
3. Aaron Mooy (WSW)
2. Thomas Broich (BR)
1. Matthew Spiranovic (WSW)

By Corinthian (Paul Green)