Wanderers run continues after late Bridge strike
By Arvind Hickman:
Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 7
5:15pm, Saturday 21 November, 2015 – Parramatta Stadium
Western Sydney Wanderers FC 2
(Piovaccari 9, Bridge 85)
Wellington Phoenix FC 1
A late Mark Bridge strike has earned Western Sydney Wanderers a 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix at the Pirtek Stadium on Saturday evening.
It is the first time the Wanderers have won four consecutive games in two years and lifts them to third on the Hyundai A-League table, a point above cross-town rivals Sydney FC who played out a 0-0 draw in Perth.
In an entertaining game, Federico Piovaccari’s early goal for the Red and Blacks was cancelled out by Manny Muscat before Bridge netted the winner five minutes from time.
On the balance of play, the Wanderers were good value for the win, controlling the tempo for much of the game and creating plenty of chances against a resolute Phoenix team that did its best work on the counter.
Popovic was pleased by his charges work ethic, highlighted by Scott Neville sprinting down the pitch in the 84th minute to keep a ball in play only moments before the decisive goal.
“I’m really happy to win a tough game. It wasn’t easy out there and I don’t think we were at our best,” he said. “With the ball we probably weren’t as fluent [as we would like to be]. That’s full credit to Wellington, they made it difficult.”
Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick described his team’s performance as a “step backwards”, bemoaning a lack of control in the midfield that forced him to bring on Alex Rufer for the ineffective Jeffrey Sarpong at half time.
“Normally we control the midfield pretty well but I don’t think we could hit a pass tonight…we were relying too much on a counter attack fast break and our quality of passing was poor. Too many players were out of position at the end of it, too many inexperienced players in the team.”
An example of poor positioning contributed to the Wanderers opening goal.
Phoenix defenders were caught too far up the pitch when Nix striker Michael McGlinchey lined up a free kick in the 8th minute. His wonderstrike rattled the crossbar and the rebound fell to Wanders attacker Mitch Nichols who swiftly played through Mark Bridge.
With Phoenix defenders struggling to get back, Bridge ran the length of the half uncontested and drew keeper Glenn Moss before passing to Piovaccari for a simple tap in.
After a poor start to his A-League career, the Italian is starting to find his feet with better work rate and positioning, which Popovic puts down to improved fitness.
Moments later Scott Jamieson had a rasping right-footed strike ruled out due to an infringement in the box from the preceding corner.
The Nix then equalised against the run of play when Manny Muscat was afforded too much time and space by Dario Vidosic on the left side of the box. Muscat cut inside the Wanderers captain to create a better angle and hit a low shot to the left of Redmayne.
The Wanderers ‘keeper could argue two offside Phoenix players were interfering with play, but questions should also be asked of why Muscat was afforded so much space.
The Wanderers created several late chances in the half. The best fell to Vidosic in a well-worked set-piece variation with Dimas that fooled everyone except Moss.
After Rufer replaced Sarpong at the interval, the Phoenix were more solid in midfield and chances for both teams were harder to come by.
For the Phoenix, McGlinchey forced Redmayne into a smart save before Rufer hit the upright from the resulting corner.
At the other end, Wanderers defender Alberto had a goal-bound header blocked off the line by Justin Gulley, while Scott Neville should have done better from a tight angle.
Super sub Brendon Santalab nearly got 14,426 crowd to their feet when he was tearing down on goal with only Moss to beat, but was called back for offside.
Moments later Santalab headed a Wanderers corner onto the path of Bridge on the left side of the box. Unmarked, Bridge brilliantly controlled the ball, took a few strides forward before hitting a worthy winner.
His two pieces of quality, first to set up the opener and then have the composure to score a later winner, earned special praise from the gaffer.
“That’s just his second start this year after a long injury in the pre-season so we expect him to only get better,” Popovic said.
That Popovic wasn’t totally convinced by his team’s performance is a good sign. Champion teams find ways to win when they are not at their best, and the character and workrate shown by the Red and Blacks, in particular players like Bridge and Mitch Nichols, will trouble any side in the league.
The Phoenix, led by their excellent captain Andrew Durante, should not feel too disheartened. The game was heading for a stalemate when a late lapse of concentration and fine piece of individual skill proved decisive.
Western Sydney travel to Gosford next week to take on the Central Coast while the Nix head down Parramatta road to meet Sydney FC on Thursday.
Western Sydney Wanderers FC:
- Andrew REDMAYNE, 3. Scott JAMIESON, 17. ALBERTO, 4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY, 12. Scott NEVILLE, 8. Dimas DELGADO (Jacob PEPPER 90’), 18. ANDREU, 10. Dario VIDOSIC (7. Romeo CASTELEN 61’), 6. Mitch NICHOLS, 19. Mark BRIDGE, 9. Federico PIOVACCARI (Brendon SANTALAB 71’),
Yellow cards: nil
Coach: Tony Popovic
Wellington Phoenix FC:
- Glenn MOSS, 3. Justin GULLEY, 18. Benjamin SIGMUND (Louis FENTON 52’), 22. Andrew DURANTE 2. Emmanuel MUSCAT, 13. Albert RIERA, 4. Rolieny BONEVACIA (Kwabena APPIAH-KUBI 90’), 8. Alex RODRIGUEZ, 10. Michael MCGLINCHEY, 21. Roy KRISHNA, 7. Jeffrey SARPONG (Alex RUFER 46’).
Yellow cards: Rodriguez 33’, Riera 37’
Coach: Ernie Merrick
Referee: Strebre Delovski
Assistant Referees: Allyson Flynn, Andrej Gjev. Fourth official: Ben Williams
Ratings and points
Referee Rating: 7/20
Match Rating: 8/10
2 – Mark Bridge (MV)
2 – Andrew Durante (WP)
1 – Rolieny Bonevacia (WP)
1 – Mitch Nichols (WW)