7 goal thriller at Parra

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 17
7:40pm, Friday 29th January 2016 – Parramatta Stadium

Western Sydney Wanderers FC 4 (Mitch Nichols 32′, Mark Bridge 60′, 66′, Brendon Santalab 89′)
Melbourne City FC 3 (Harry Novillo 77′, Bruno Fornaroli 78′, Erik Paartalu 90’+3)


Matches between title-contenders do not always produce scintillating soccer, as we’ve seen so many times before this season, but there was nothing about Friday night’s first v second stoush at Parramatta Stadium to suggest anything other than a true spectacle was going to unfold, right from the opening whistle, as table-toppers Western Sydney Wanderers took on the mercurial second-placed Melbourne City.

The opening whistle, in fact, almost coincided with the first substitution of the game, when a heavily-strapped Melbourne City skipper, Patrick Kisnorbo, had to be replaced by Jack Clisby, after succumbing to an Achilles injury that would have rocked lesser sides.

City coach, John van’t Schip, told the media, post-match, that Kisnorbo’s injury was not the result of any pre-existing condition, although it was observed that Clisby had been warming up almost as soon as the teams kicked off.

“He felt his Achilles and we had to bring him off,” van’t Schip explained.

“We didn’t lose just Patrick, we lost another defender, Aaron Hughes, to injury, on the morning of the match, as well.

Yet, with a makeshift backline, that included new signing Osama Malik, alongside Jacob Melling and Clisby, the Melbourne visitors got down to business without hesitation.

The loss of their captain didn’t seem to concern City too much, as they did plenty of early attacking, going close a number of times; but for all that the Wanderers created more than their share of chances too and it was an agreeably open contest, at times physical, but seldom lacking in skill or flair from either side.

Bruno Fornaroli, the find of the season down south, was in the thick of the action early and was combining brilliantly with City’s other foreign talent of note, Harry Novillo.

Mooy and Novillo set Fornaroli up for a 13th minute chance that the latter steered narrowly wide, under intense pressure from the Wanderers’ defence.

That City opportunity had come after good work from Wanderers’ youngster, Jaushua Sotirio, coming in for Romeo Castelen, who perhaps needed a rest.

Sotirio showed some speed down the left and got the ball over well for the much-improved Dario Vidosic, who was then foiled by quick action from City keeper, Thomas Sorensen.

Chances came thick and fast in this encounter and with seven goals scored and many other near-misses occurring in this game, it would take too long to describe all but the efforts that found the net.

One other ‘goal’ was disallowed for offside, but that, at least, was not based on any contentious refereeing decision.

Here Mark Bridge, who’s enjoying a truly renaissance season, was celebrating his 100th appearance in Wanderers’ colours and went on to produce a man-of-the match performance which did that magnificent statistic justice.

Only skipper, Nikolai Topor-Stanley has played more matches for the Red and Black, just ten ahead of the in-form number 19.

Everything Bridge touched seemed to be gold; that he had a hand in all of the Wanderers’ goals, should therefore come as no surprise.

He and Mitch Nichols have developed some unique chemistry, as the season has unfolded, both blossoming through their newly-forged partnership.

It may have taken half-an-hour on Friday night for the combination to bear fruit and only after some scary moments in both goal-mouths, prior to that point, but the RBB group behind the goal were perfectly placed to greet the opening goal from Nichols, a deftly-delivered finish from a very adroit flicked-pass from Bridge, in the 32nd minute.

It had been Vidosic, the third member of the Wanderers’ attack, who’d sent Bridge away, with Nichols peeling off to the latter’s left, cleverly accepting the pass, 10 yards out, before angling his shot delicately past an anguished Sorensen.

Some physicality ensued, as the teams adjusted to the new dynamics brought about by arrival of the opening goal.

City re-doubled their efforts in attack and Novillo, who was proving a real handful, came in for some stick from the hard- working Wanderers’ defence.

Some of referee Shaun Evans’ decisions did not go the way that the partisan home fans would have liked, as Alberto, for one, clashed heavily with Novillo and Nikolai Topor Stanley tussled several times with the same player, as well as the equally slippery Fornaroli.

Following that tackle on Novillo, the crowd began to jeer the French striker every time he came near the ball, which was often, cheering every time a pass of his went astray, or when he was dispossessed.

But later on, the sharp-shooter had his say with a well-taken goal.

On another day he might well have figured in our 3-2-1, but there were too many stand-out players on this particular stage, so he had to muss out this time.

Bridge, who claimed a brace, might well have had a hat-trick to mark his 100th appearance, but from a Nichols pass in first-half stoppage-time, an attempt by the first goalscorer to repay the compliment with a telling pass, saw a rising shot that barely cleared the crossbar, but was otherwise right on target.

But Nicholas was eventually able to help his team-mate to make it 2-0 in the 60th.

It had taken an hour for the Wanderers to subdue their talented opponents, whose defensive frailties have been well-documented, but who did well to stem the tide, as Vidosic, Bridge and Nichols took the game to them repeatedly.

Vidosic, having won the ball in centre-field, found Nichols, whose squared pass was gleefully driven home by Bridge, to increase the winning margin.

Then, six minutes later, Vidosic lifted the ball over the heads of defenders, out wide, to Nichols on the left and the first goalscorer sent over a shot towards the top-right corner of the City net, with Sorensen struggling to reach it.

Bridge came racing in and swept the ball home, though there’s every chance it would have crossed the line, even without his intervention; but he needed to make sure.

With many chances falling to City to keep the contest absorbing and in the balance, the 3-0 would have settled some home team nerves, in a game which was far from one-sided.

Both City’s wide defenders, Ivan Franjic and Michael Zullo, contributed solidly, especially going forward.

Aaron Mooy was virtually involved in everything, centrally at least, while City’s new signing from Central Coast, Anthony Caceres, appeared to have far less influence on proceedings.

That is until the 65th, when he was cautioned for a wild challenge on half-way, only to later be cautioned again for a foul of lesser significance, which earned his dismissal in the  85th, just as his City side was looking to snatch at least a point.

They got to that point by scoring twice in a minute through Novillo and Fornaroli, after the Wanderers had noticeably switched off.

Mooy’s long searching ball allowed Novillo to ghost in on the right and slide the ball home from a tight angle with a finish of the highest order.

Then Mooy again was the instigator as Fornaroli finished with equal aplomb.

That brought it back to 3-2 and while both goals were certainly well taken, the Wanderer’s defensive discipline that had been so sound earlier on, was clearly absent during these moments quite late in the game.

Before the dismissal of Caceres, Wanderers’ coach, Tony Popovic, had summoned Romeo Castelen from the bench, in the 74th and significantly, then added talismanic substitute, Brendon Santalab, in the 80th.

At 3-2 the game was in the balance, but Castelen, held back tactically until this point, gave City a lot more to think about and we all know what Santalab is capable of, given half a chance in sight of goal.

With a minute to play Bridge – who else? – laid on a superb pass for Castelen to get in behind the City defence and, as if these two do it every day for fun, he fed the ball across to Santalab to sweep home for 4-2.

That calmed the nerves and looked almost a replica of the week before, when the evergreen substitute had settled the issue with the winner up at Central Coast.

But City were far from finished and their formidable forward- line still had to be contained as four minutes of stoppage-time beckoned.

Mooy was driving his side on and on, never lacking the belief that they could pull the game out of the fire, however late it might be.

Castelen nearly made it five for the home side, only to falter as Sorensen came off his line, but at the other end City won a free-kick.

Mooy played in the perfect pass for Erik Paartalu to stab home and at 4-3 with a minute or so left, the fans were whistling for full-time at full lung capacity, until referee Evans finally obliged.

It had been an epic contest and well worthy of a top-of-the-table clash.

Saves and near misses were as frequent as the goals in this contest and the 14,820 patrons who’d ventured out to Parramatta must have left the stadium fully satisfied.

The game finished with van’t Schip talking animatedly to Evans on the pitch, no doubt asking the referee about some decisions he felt had gone against his side.

“I don’t think Caceres should have got the second caution,” he opined, later at the media conference.

“I think the referee only became aware that it was a second caution when his assistant alerted him and had he realised, he probably wouldn’t have given that second card.

“At that stage of the game it could have made all the difference for us.

“I also spoke to him about a few other decisions that happened earlier in the game,” the coach explained.

His opposite number, Popovic, was delighted with the team’s showing.

“For 75 minutes it was our best performance of the season, for sure,” he agreed, when that assessment was put to him by the media throng.

“Mark Bridge has never played better and the whole team defended well for most of the game.

“I’d said before the game that if we gave a good performance, win or lose,  we could be considered real title-contenders and that was a very good performance.

Match details

Crowd:   14,820

Western Sydney Wanderers FC: 20.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 12. Scott NEVILLE, 17 Alberto AGUILAR, 4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (C),   3. Scott JAMIESON;   8. Dimas DELGADO, 18. ANDREU (15 Kearyn BACCUS 71) ; 6. Mitch NICHOLS; 16 Jaushua SOTIRIO (7. Romeo CASTELEN 74), 10 Dario VIDOSIC  (11 Brendon SANTALAB 80), 19 Mark BRIDGE

Subs Not Used: RGK 30. Liam REDDY, 21 Jacob PEPPER

Yellow cards: Andreu 28, Mark Bridge 31; Red cards: Nil
Coach: Tony Popovic

Melbourne City FC: 1 Thomas SORENSEN (gk);  25 Jacob MELLING, 33 Osama MALIK, 24 Patrick KISNORBO (c1), (22 Jack CLISBY 4) 5 Ivan FRANJIC (c2), 11 Michael (18 Paulo RETRE 70)ZULLO ; 6 Erik PAARTALU (19 Benjamin GARUCCIO 70), 29 Anthony CACERES; 8 Aaron MOOY;   23 Bruno FORNAROLI, 9 Harry NOVILLO
Subs not used: 20 Dean BOUZANIS (rgk),  27 Nick FITZGERALD
Yellow Cards: Jack Clisby 57, Anthony Caceres 65, 85; Red Cards: Anthony Caceres 85
Coach: John van’t Schip

Referee: Shaun Evans
Assistants: Lance Greenshields and Andrew Lindsay; Fourth Official: Stephen Lucas

Points and ratings

Referee  5/10
Match 9/10
Pitch 9/10

Player points:
3.  Mark Bridge (WSW)
2.  Aaron Mooy (MC)
1. Dimas Delgado  (WSW)

By Corinthian