Wanderers deny Harry Kewell winning send-off

BEN MCKAY
Last updated 01:11 13/04/2014

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Western Sydney Wanderers have produced a stunning A-League comeback to overrun Melbourne Heart 3-2 and spoil Harry Kewell's farewell match.

The retiring Socceroo great looked set to end his professional football career with a win when an Orlando Engelaar special and a deflected Jason Hoffman strike gave the Heart a 2-1 lead.

But late goals to Brendon Santalab and Youssouf Hersi grabbed all three points for the Wanderers, who locked up second spot on the ladder.

The loss condemned the Heart to their first A-League wooden spoon and was an unfair reward for their sparkling play.

The sense of occasion was felt deeply amongst the 10,003-strong crowd, not just for the retiring Kewell, but for the future of their club.

With owners Manchester City planning a winter makeover, Heart fans asked their new owners to "Keep the Red and White" through banners and thousands of signs.

Despite the loss, Heart fans would probably play in pink polka dots next season if they could keep Kewell and Engelaar.

After Nikolai Topor-Stanley had given Western Sydney an early lead with a delightful arcing header, the Heart pair combined neatly to equalise.

Kewell won a free kick and played it quickly to the Dutch giant, who pulled the trigger with a scorching shot that gave Ante Covic no chance.

Engelaar, playing in almost certainly his last game for the Heart, has made a deep impression in his time at the club - matched perhaps only by 35-year-old Kewell.

Both have endured injury-plagued seasons but will be fondly missed by the Heart faithful.

They masterminded a spell of prolonged Heart pressure, eventually leading to a breakthrough.

Hoffman, another long-term injured Heart man, gave his side the lead on 72 minutes.

But that was as good as it got for the Heart, with a mad-cap 20 minutes resulting in their lead being overturned in dramatic fashion.

A rash Jonatan Germano challenge earned Western Sydney Wanderers a penalty, which was missed by Shinji Ono.

The Wanderers weren't to be denied, with Santalab beating Velaphi despite what looked to be a clear foul on Rob Wielaert in the build-up.

Then in the 86th minute, quick feet and a neat finish from Hersi allowed the Wanderers to dance with their travelling fans.

The touch-line fist-pumps from Wanderers coach Tony Popovic accompanying Hersi's winner demonstrated how much a second-placed finish meant to the club.

"It's very important... having that weekend off will help," he said.

"We'll gain a lot from this result and the way we got the result."

John van 't Schip was less than impressed with the manner of his defeat.

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"It was more or less a game we have seen the last five. Playing good, creating chances, not finishing, and in the end losing the game," he said.

Western Sydney Wanderers 3 (Nikolai Topor-Stanley 27m, Brendon Santalab 81m, Youssouf Hersi 86m) Melbourne Heart 2 (Orlando Engelaar 34m, Jason Hoffman 72m) at AAMI Park. Crowd: 10,003. Referee: Jarred Gillett

- AAP

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