Castelen-inspired Wanderers overcome Victory
By Arvind Hickman:
Hyundai A-League – Round 10
Western Sydney Wanderers FC 2
(Bridge 54’, Castelen 79)
Melbourne Victory FC 0
A-League frontrunners Western Sydney Wanderers have opened up a four-point lead after a classy 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory on Saturday night.
In an end-to-end game high in quality, Dutch forward Romeo Castelen was the inspiration, setting up Mark Bridge and then scoring a late second to earn the Wanderers their seventh win on the spin.
Make no mistake, this Western Sydney Wanderers side are the real deal. Put simply, they are the best A-League team at this minute and have placed another marker by overcoming last season’s stand out side.
In the past week the Wanderers have ground out a hard-earned win over second-placed Brisbane Roar and put on a near faultless display against the defending champions in two stern tests of their title credentials.
“It’s a great feeling in the change room after the game. We played a very good team and deserved to beat them tonight,” Wanderers coach Tony Popovic said.
“It shows we can compete with anyone…maybe if we had Victory earlier in the year we wouldn’t be ready for them. But in round 10, the players are fitter, the fluency and understanding is better.”
Popovic, who rarely praises individuals, acknowledged Castelen’s contribution, but said he had played even better against Adelaide and Central Coast without reward earlier in the season.
Victory coach Kevin Muscat was left in no doubt about the quality of the Dutchman. “Tonight he was outstanding and probably the difference in the main moments,” he said.
“We contributed to a good game of football played in the right spirit. In the first half I thought we edged it in terms of consecutive half chances and getting in behind them…[but] just lacked that little bit of composure in the final third.”
Muscat said his side should have defended better for both second half goals, but in the end the Wanderers deserved to win an even contest.
While Castelen stood out, this was very much a team performance oozing in confidence and a defensive resolve that has minor premiers written all over it.
Nikolai Topor-Stanley marshalled a stubborn defensive line well, both fullbacks provided plenty of energy and endeavour on the flanks, while Bridge, with his intelligent movement and hunger, has done a great job of leading the line in the absence of Italian import Federico Piovaccari.
After recent protests against the FFA, the Red and Black Block returned to a boisterous Pirtek Stadium and were duly rewarded with scintilating football by both sides.
Castelen was the creative spark for most of the Red and Blacks’ best work. At times unplayable, he gave Victory fullback Daniel Georgievski a torrid time, turning his opponent inside out and beating Victory players at will in one of the finest individual performances this season.
The Dutch flyer created the first chance after five minutes when he glided in between two players and teed up Bridge in the box, but the Wanderers forward couldn’t dig out a shot.
Minutes later, Mitch Nichols intercepted a ball near half way and played Bridge onto goal with just the goalkeeper to beat. However, Daniel Vukovic did well to cut down Bridge’s angle and the striker could only manage a tame shot that went wide.
The visitors more than matched the home side in the first half and were unlucky not to take the lead in the 18th minute. Andrew Redmayne spilled a corner that fell kindly to Georgievski. The fullback played a dangerous cross onto the diving Besart Berisha, who kneed the ball onto the underside of the crossbar, but the rebound failed to cross the line and the danger was cleared.
Kosta Barbarouses, often the bright spark in Victory’s attack, then forced Redmayne into a sharp one-handed save after running onto a brilliant one-two with Berisha to split open the Wanderers defence.
Castelen continued to terrorise Victory with deft turns and almost broke the deadlock just before the interval when he was picked out inside the box and forced Vukovic to parry wide.
The second half began in a simialr vein – Castelen setting up Bridge inside the box but the Wanderers striker again lacked an end product.
In the 54th minute, Bridge made no mistake. Scott Neville played a defence-splitting ball for Castelen who had got in behind the defence. The forward surged towards the byline and squared the ball to Bridge to tap home. The timing of Castelen’s run and the inch-perfect cross gave the Victory defence no chance.
Victory tried to hit back immediately but for all of their possession couldn’t create meaningful chances with Berisha well shackled and Barbarouses fading as the game went on.
Substitute Connor Pain tested Redmayne with a curler from distance, before Castelen wrapped up the points moments later.
A quick-thinking Topor-Stanley ball picked out Castelen on the counter. The Dutch forward then flew past the hapless Georgievski and drilled a rasping shot from the right side of the box that Vukovic could only parry into his net.
Vukovic should have done better, but it was the least Castelen deserved for a commanding performance.
The Wanderers next two games are against Perth Glory and Newcastle, both winnable but any slip in standards could see several teams, including the Victory, breathing down their necks over Christmas.
Western Sydney Wanderers FC: Redmayne (gk), Neville, Alberto, Topor-Stanley (c), Jamieson, Andreu, Dimas, Nichols, Castelen (Mebrahtu 84’), Vidosic (Sotirio 72’), Bridge (Santalab 74’)
Coach: Tony Popovic
Melbourne Victory FC: Vukovic (gk), Geria (Howard 87’), Broxham (c), Delpierre, Georgievski, Mahazi (Gallifuoco 77’), Bozanic, Barbarouses, Finkler, Ben Khalfallah (Pain 67’), Berisha
Coach: Kevin Muscat
Red cards: Nil
Yellow cards: Nichols 20’ (WSW), Ben Khalfallah 43’ (MV), Andreu 56’ (WSW), Geria 66’ (MV), Barbarouses 70’ (MV), Santalab 85’ (WSW), Mebrahtu 86’ (WSW), Sotirio 88’ (WSW)
Referee: Shaun Evans. Assistant Referees: Allyson Flynn, James Tesoriero
3 – Castelen (WSW) – Could have earned 5 points if voting system allowed. Simply a class above tonight. Every time he touched the ball looked like creating with classy turns and surging runs that could only be halted by foul play. Gift wrapped a few chances for Bridge and could have scored a couple. Georgievski will have nightmares for days to come.
2 – Topor-Stanley (WSW) – A no-nonsense centreback that is unheralded at times, but does the simple things well. Led the defensive line with authority, shackling Berisha and blunting Victory’s cutting edge in the final third, particulalry in the second half. Quick ball for Castelen’s goal was a peach.
1 – Jamieson (WSW) – Currently one of the best fullbacks in the league. Covers every blade of grass up and down the flanks all day long, providing important width and overlapping impetus to Wanderer’s shape. His run that beat a gazillion Victory players and ended in a dangerous cross inside the box deserved a goal and was one of the plays of the game.
Special mention: When Brendon Santalab replaced Mark Bridge in the 74th minute, a handful of journalists took bets on how long Santa would take to register a yellow. This reporter guessed 8 minutes, 3 minutes shy of a reckless, late hack on Victory’s last defender. You can be sure there is never a dull moment when the Wanderers super sub strips up.