Vastly improved Wanderers show signs of life but find Victory elusive
It was yet another night of disappointment for Western Sydney but in the context of their season, it was one the fans were happy to accept. The Wanderers succumbed 2-1 to Melbourne Victory at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night despite outplaying the champions for the bulk of the match with a vastly improved performance.
The win puts Melbourne Victory back at the top of the table, albeit temporarily, after a brace from Ola Toivonen either side of an Alexander Baumjohann penalty extended their dominant record over the Wanderers.
For Western Sydney, any positives from the performance, if not the result, will be a boost to morale considering their build-up to the match but they were still bemoaning a plethora of missed opportunities.
"We created many other chances but didnt score," Wanderers coach Markus Babbel said. "This is the biggest difference tonight. They had three or four chances and they scored, we had six or seven big chances and we could only score one goal."
It was a week of harsh words, home truths and plenty of reflection for Western Sydney but the week of turmoil appeared to be exactly what the Wanderers needed. Right from the onset, they made light work of a team their coach describes as the best in the country.
Within two minutes, they would have breached Melbourne Victory's defence if it wasn't for an astute Lawrence Thomas. The goalkeeper pulled off an impressive reflex save to deny Wanderers winger Bruce Kamau, who had fired an early half-volley.
Thomas again was all that denied the Wanderers when he blocked Patrick Ziegler at his far post, after latching on to Baumjohann's set piece. While the hosts bemoaned another fine display from a rival goalkeeper, they were guilty of spurning chances. Oriol Riera was on the end of a wicked Baumjohann cross but somehow mistimed his free header from point-blank range.
At the other end, Victory had no fortune going forward. A defence marshalled by Ziegler, flanked by impressive debutant Tate Russell – son of Illawarra Steelers legend, Ian Russell – and screened by Jordan O'Doherty in midfield held firm. That was until the final play of the half.
Completely against the run of play, Melbourne inflicted a hammer blow upon the Wanderers when James Troisi combined with Toivonen to put the Swedish international through on goal. Toivonon calmly slotted past Vedran Janjetovic to give the visitors a lead that had seemed unlikely.
In previous weeks, it would have sparked a capitulation, but the Wanderers emerged resilient. They continued to hound for a goal, surging forward regularly but found little way past Melbourne's backline, marshalled by Thomas Deng and Leigh Broxham.
"It was a difficult night in difficult conditions," Victory coach Kevin Muscat said. "What we expected we certainly got because Western Sydney were very spirited and made it one hell of a contest and we had to defend very well. Lawrence [Thomas] made a few good saves, Leigh Broxham was outstanding."
The Wanderers eventually found the breakthrough they deserved and via the fortune that's long evaded them. Baumjohann was fouled inside the box, after deceiving Victory defender Storm Roux, to earn an iron-clad penalty and he assumed the responsibility from the spot himself. With the weight of expectation from the stands upon his shoulders, the German showed nerves of steel, powering his shot into bottom corner with venom to draw level and sweep relief upon the 7062 mostly Wanderers' supporters.
They should have taken the lead soon after when substitute Nick Fitzgerald rounded Thomas to have an open goal to shoot at. However, hesitation and delay proved costly. He was made to rue that even further with five minutes left to play.
Troisi was put into space inside the box and he slid a pass alongside the goal to Toivonen, who gave his side the lead with one of the simplest finishes of his decorated career.
Fitzgerald's cameo was to be a frustrating one, denied an equaliser at the death by a fingertip save from Thomas.
Dominic Bossi is a football reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.