Unbelievable comeback saves Western Sydney’s season as 7-goal thriller sends Wanderers 6th

Western Sydney Wanderers are still in the hunt for finals football after overcoming a two-goal deficit to beat Melbourne Victory 4-3 in a pulsating final-round fixture at AAMI Park.

Victory sprung out of the blocks and had a two-goal lead after just 15 minutes, as Zinedine Machach and Daniel Arzani found the early goals. But Western Sydney were level at 2-2 by half-time, after Olyroos duo Lachlan Brook and Nicolas Milanovic scored in quick succession on their return from the U23 Asian Cup..

Arzani secured his brace in the second half to make it 3-2 and with Western Sydney needing a win to keep their finals hopes alive, young duo Aydan Hammond and Oscar Priestman both scored their very first Isuzu UTE A-League goals to turn the tide and secure a dramatic 4-3 win for the visitors.

All attention now turns to Melbourne City’s clash with Western United on Sunday; should City fail to beat United at AAMI Park, Western Sydney will finish the season inside the top six and progress to the Finals Series.

Machach sparked a frenetic first half into life with his inventive effort in the fourth minute, dispatched off his non-preferred left foot into the turf in front of him, which helped the ball dip under the crossbar and past Lawrence Thomas in goal.

By the 15-minute mark Victory had two goals on the board, and were on the road to what seemed at the time a routine win before the momentum swung later in the half.

Arzani was Victory’s second goalscorer, ghosting into the box to meet Adama Traore’s cut-back cross with a first-time finish.

But with their season on the line, the Wanderers refused to go down without a fight.

Just five minutes after Arzani made it 2-0 to Victory, Brook took a deft touch in Western Sydney’s attacking penalty box and struck truly to halve the deficit.

The visitors were down and out after 15 minutes – but then came the resurgence as they went into half-time on level terms.

The Wanderers had missed the attacking impetus of both Brook and Milanovic as the two youngsters represented Australia at the U23 Asian Cup, and their return to Marko Rudan’s squad for Saturday’s clash with Victory reaped instant rewards as Milanovic equalised 10 minutes before the break with a simple tap-in.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 27: Nicolas Milanovic of the Wanderers celebrates with Dylan Pierias of the Wanderers after scoring a goal during the A-League Men round 26 match between Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park, on April 27, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Western Sydney needed to find a third to have any hope of making the top six but Arzani struck again 10 minutes after the restart to put the visitors back behind the eight ball.

Arzani’s two goals on the night came off his weaker left foot and the strike to secure his brace was the pick of the bunch, eased into the top-left corner with the aide of a significant deflection.

Wanderers boss Rudan made four changes after Victory’s as his side chased the two goals they needed to get back in front. Aydan Hammond and Nathanael Blair were two of his substitutes and they combined in the 73rd minute to bring the game back on level terms.

Blair had an appeal for a penalty when he was bundled over in the box but referee Alireza Faghani didn’t need to make a decision; Hammond swooped on the loose ball and squeezed home the first goal of his A-Leagues career to make it 3-3.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 27: Aydan Hammond of the Wanderers celebrates scoring a goal during the A-League Men round 26 match between Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park, on April 27, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

VAR checked whether the ball had touched Blair, who was still on the ground after the contact in the box, before hitting the back of the net but a replay showed the final touch came off Victory defender Roderick Miranda as the goal was allowed to stand.

Hammond’s equaliser set the stage for a dramatic end to the action at AAMI Park. Priestman, who was perhaps fortunate not to receive a second yellow card for a tackle on Leigh Broxham in the 86th minute, became the hero for Western Sydney just one minute later.

Priestman collected possession outside the box, cut onto his right and fired a deflected shot past Izzo and in as the Wanderers took a one-goal lead they held to full-time, to move into sixth on the table and keep their finals hopes alive.