Wanderers win Sydney derby with a late goal
A Brendon Santalab winner at the death secured Western Sydney their first home A-League derby victory over Sydney FC at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night.
Santalab, who came on as a substitute for striker Tomi Juric on the hour, scored the winner in the 87th minute to ensure the triumph over their cross-town rivals in what was a real arm wrestle played at a frenetic pace.
In the previous four derbies, surprisingly the Wanderers have won both clashes at Allianz Stadium but were yet to record a derby win in front of their own fans.
Fans turned out in numbers to watch the clash with over 18,000 filling the stands.
And while the contest may have been heated on the pitch, the supporters were well behaved during the match with Football Federation Australia to impose a three-point deduction on the Wanderers should their fans not toe the line.
The Wanderers, who suffered their first home loss in 12 months to lowly Wellington last week, came out with a point to prove and were on the attack from the get go.
While Sydney skipper Alessandro Del Piero showed some deft touches, Wanderers gloveman Ante Covic was barely troubled in the opening half.
His Sydney FC counterpart Vedran Janjetovic, on the other hand, was kept on his toes with the Wanderers hitting the woodwork four times in the first half.
Both Mark Bridge and Juric hit the post early with Juric again showing his class in front of goal, skillfully weaving his way through the Sydney defence but sending his ensuing shot sent just wide.
Dangerous Dutchman Youssouf Hersi almost scored the goal of the season just before the break, hitting the crossbar with a missile from 35 meters out.
The rebound fell to the waiting Juric whose point-blank strike unbelievably also hit the crossbar to send both teams to the break scoreless.
Sydney coach Frank Farina brought on young forward Corey Gameiro for veteran Brett Emerton early in the second half and the move almost paid off right away with a Gameiro strike just floating high.
The Sky Blues kept up the attack with Covic forced to diffuse shots from Ranko Despotovic and Terry McFlynn.
Wanderers' 16-year-old Daniel Alessi was given a baptism of fire by coach Tony Popovic, making his A-League debut in the heated derby.
But it was Popovic's 60th-minute substitute of Santalab for Juric that proved crucial, the striker netting the winner off a great Hersi cross in the 87th minute.
The victory lifts the Wanderers to within four points of front-runners Brisbane on the ladder.
Popovic said despite remaining scoreless until the 87th minute he never doubted they'd win.
"No I didn't doubt it. Football is like that sometimes where you have so many opportunities and you hit the post so many times but you've got to keep believing," he said.
"The players were back to the way we play. We didn't lose our structure, we defended well, we kept believing that we'd get a goal.
"Derbies are difficult. I said yesterday 'do whatever it takes to win the three points'.
"So in the end it was a well-deserved victory."
Farina admitted he was frustrated not to get anything out of such a spirited performance from his side.
"I'm obviously frustrated and disappointed," he said.
"But you can't afford to switch off for one second and we did for that goal and we got punished.
"You've got to concentrate for 90 minutes and unfortunately we went to sleep for a few second there.
"Overall I thought we deserved a point, but it doesn't matter what I think, we didn't get any."
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Brendon Santalab 87m) Sydney FC 0 at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd: 18,080. Referee: Jarred Gillett