The NRMA Insurance Western Sydney Wanderers have made a statement with a commanding performance over second-placed Melbourne City.
While a late City flurry added some respectability to the 4-3 score line, the result was never in doubt once Mitch Nichols scored his eighth goal of the season. A Mark Bridge double and a typically late Brendon Santalab strike rounded out the scoring.
Fans have come to expect nothing less than an enthralling contest when these two sides go head to head and the first-versus-second clash lived to up to all its pre-match hype.
With the high-pressure match holding such a strong bearing on the complexion of the ladder, you could have been forgiven for both managers adopting a slightly more conservative approach.
But after one of the most entertaining first halves in recent memory, the idea that either side – particular Melbourne City – would do anything less but throw caution to the wind was inconceivable.
There was no softening up period and no sense of either side being overwhelmed by the occasion with both teams attacking each other with brutal intensity. If it wasn’t in the billing prior to kick off, the top of the table encounter had all the ingredients for a genuine Hyundai A-League classic.
The visitors lost defensive stalwart Patrick Kisnorbo after just three minutes and skipper’s presence at the back was sorely missed as City invited wave after wave of attacking forays from the Red & Black.
Dario Vidosic thought he’d scored the opener when his cushioned header looped over Thomas Sorensen but assistant referee Andrew Lindsay correctly adjudged the marquee offside before Andrew Redmayne had to be at his bravest to deny former Wanderer Aaron Mooy at the other end.
In a first half brimming with blood and thunder it was the Wanderers who struck the decisive blow.
After City lost possession in midfield, the Wanderers worked the ball to Bridge who turned smartly before sliding a perfectly weighted pass to Nichols. The in-form midfielder took a sublime touch with his right before sweeping the ball into the far corner with his left.
Wanderland had been simmering nicely prior to the breakthrough but emotions boiled over following Nichols’ eighth of the season.
City were probably second best as the first half drew to a close but they began to enforce themselves onto the Wanderers half when play resumed after the break.
But just as the Red & Black appeared hemmed inside their own penalty area, they hit back with a classic counter attacking goal, ending with Bridge coolly dispatching Nichol’s cutback for 2-0.
By now it was evident the Wanderers were by some distance the hungrier and as City continued to hammer the self-destruct button Bridge and Nichols combined once more for a third, Bridge tapping in from close range after Nichols had lobbed the onrushing Sorensen.
Two quick-fire strikes from Harry Novillo and Bruno Fornaroli made it a nervy climax but the Wanderers regained their composure following the dismissal of Anthony Caceres for a second bookable offence and added a fourth when substitutes Romeo Castelen and Brendon Santalab combined in the final minute of normal time.
There was one final shot in anger for the visitors when Erik Paartalu poked home Aaron Mooy’s free kick to make it 4-3 but it was too little too late for City, with referee Shaun Evans calling time on a truly incredible contest.
Wanderers are next at home in two weeks with tickets available here.