The NRMA Insurance Western Sydney Wanderers were left frustrated in Melbourne after a controversial first half saw the Red & Black defeated by the Victory at Etihad Stadium.
Fresh off qualifying for the AFC Champions League Final, the Wanderers headed into the match without their two centre backs nor their centre forward with Nikolai Topor-Stanley on national team duty and injuries keeping Matthew Spiranovic and Tomi Juric out of contention.
The match started at a frenetic pace and it wasn’t long until Victory was in front when Matthew Delpierre volleyed in from a set-piece. How the defender was allowed so much room was soon revealed as replays showed Antony Golec, while attempting to mark Delpierre, was flung to the ground by Adrian Leijer as the ball was delivered.
While not an ideal start it did not phase the Wanderers as they sought an equaliser instantly and it should have come when Brendan Santalab, poised to score, was illegally brought down again by Leijer with referee Jarred Gillett failing to see any wrong-doing.
Rubbing salt in the wound, Victory themselves were correctly awarded a penalty for handball which Besart Berisha duly converted.
The game itself was back-and-forth and while another goal by Victory blew out the margin, the contest itself was in the balance. So much so that when Mark Bridge scored just before half time there was enough confidence within the Wanderers camp to believe a comeback was on the cards.
The comeback looked on for all money shortly after the break when Brendon Santalab forced a diving save out of Victory’s Nathan Coe.
Vitor Saba, receiving the ball from a long throw, threaded a beautiful ball into the box for Santalab to poke towards goal only for it to be miraculously turned away.
The introduction of Saba, Jason Trifiro and Romeo Castelen brought a lot of energy on to the pitch with the two foreign signings particularly looking impressive on the ball.
Head Coach Tony Popovic stated after the match that fans won’t see the best of them for another eight weeks. Opposition defences look out!
Despite all of this though Melbourne were able to score a fourth and kill the match off as a contest.
Not the greatest result to open the season but Champions are not decided in Round One – evidenced by the fact that only 45% of all Grand Final winners have won their opening round match in the history of the Hyundai A-League.
If anything the match was reminiscent of the Red & Black’s opening match of the AFC Champions League; a loss but with very important lessons for the team.
You can be rest assured that the team will be ready to fire for next week’s Sydney Derby.