Match Preview: Wanderers v Melbourne City

The Wanderers can secure Finals football for a second season in a row if they defeat Melbourne City in their final home game of the regular season.

Currently in sixth and a point ahead of their opponents, victory would see them create an insurmountable four point gap with only one round to follow after this weekend.

There is no shortage of motivation for Marko Rudan’s men, who will look to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss in the Sydney Derby.

They fell behind midway through the second half after losing Brandon Borrello and Tom Beadling to injury, but equalised in the 96th minute thanks to Zac Sapsford’s towering header; it was his second goal in the Derby this season.

However, their rivals scored with virtually the last kick of the game to take home a 2-1 win.

The Wanderers still have their fate in their own hands in the final two games of the season, and they would love to head into the final match of the season knowing their place in the finals is already certain.

Player availability is becoming an issue for the Wanderers, with Borrello and Beadling missing due to injury, and Nicolas Milanovic and Lachie Brook also away on international duty.

Whilst these are blows, it will give the opportunity to some of the Wanderers’ younger players who have impressed in the NPL NSW competition this season.

As well as goalscorer Sapsford, Marcus Younis also played during the derby on Saturday night and backed it up the next day with a goal and three assists against St George City.

The likes of Nathan Barrie, Alex Bonetig and Nathaneal Blair will also be potential candidates to come into the first-team squad for these crucial matches both at centre back and in the depleted forward line.

The match will also be Milos Ninkovic’s final regular season home match before his retirement, and the veteran Serbian midfielder would love to mark the game with a crucial win.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 13: Miloš Ninković of the Wanderers controls the ball during the A-League Men round 24 match between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium, on April 13, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Melbourne City have been an unpredictable team this season; they recorded the biggest win in A-League Men’s history last weekend when they smashed Perth Glory 8-0 at home, and also won 8-1 over the Brisbane Roar in December.

Yet they also lost 5-1 to Brisbane in the return fixture, and also lost 6-0 to Adelaide early on in the season, resulting in Rado Vidosic losing his job.

Under Aurelio Vidmar, they have at times played some brilliant football, but they still are at risk of missing out on the finals for the first time since the City Football Group took ownership of the club.

They do have the experience and quality that counts in crucial games, and the Wanderers will need to stop the likes of Tolgay Arslan, Mat Leckie and Jamie Maclaren on Saturday afternoon.

The previous two games this season have been split between the sides; the Wanderers won the first game during Unite Round in a solid performance at CommBank Stadium, where Dylan Pierias’ goal was enough to secure a 1-0 victory.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 12: during the A-League Men round 12 match between Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers at CommBank Stadium, on January 12, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Steve Christo – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

It was a much tougher night for the Wanderers at AAMI Park in March, where they suffered a heavy defeat without captain Marcelo, who missed the game due to suspension.

The Wanderers recent record over City is also not as strong as they would like, with January’s win their first over the Victorian side since 2019.

But history counts for little in high pressure games, and a win for the Wanderers would see them qualify for the Finals at the expense of Melbourne City.