A contender for goal of the season by Mitch Nichols has seen Western Sydney Wanderers beat Brisbane Roar 2-1 in an engrossing contest at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday night.
A keenly-contested match appeared to be heading for a draw after first-half goals from Mark Bridge at Jamie Maclaren had the scores level heading towards the last 10 minutes.
But Nichols still had one moment of magic, curling a spectacular strike into the top corner to hand the Wanderers a sixth straight win.
With Melbourne Victory losing earlier on Saturday, Tony Popovic’s side has moved to the outright top of the Hyundai A-League ladder.
1-0 Bridge (29’) – It started deep in the Wanderers own half as Andreu wriggled free of a couple of markers before releasing Mitch Nichols down the left. He eventually found Romeo Castelen who drove into the box, around one defender and whipped in a cross which took a deflection perfectly into the path of Bridge for a simple tap-in.
1-1 Maclaren (36’) – A missed interception from Alberto allowed Thomas Broich to slip Maclaren through on goal. While Nikolai Topor-Stanley looked to be closing him down, Maclaren shot anyway with the ball deflecting off the Wanderers skipper and over a diving Andrew Redmayne and into the net.
2-1 Nichols (79’) – Receiving the ball with his back to goal, Nichols turned Jack Hingert brilliantly before curling a sensational shot into the far, top-corner. A simply sublime strike.
Just before the break, Roar’s defence was caught out by a hopeful long ball forward out of the Wanderers territory. Bridge sprung the offside trap and was seemingly one-on-one with goa-keeper Jamie Young.
But Daniel Bowles never gave up, chasing Bridge down and getting a crucial clearance in, getting his boot between the legs of the Wanderers attacker to get the ball.
It was a superb piece of defending and he had to judge it exactly right or it would have been a penalty and straight red card.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
The Wanderers scored the opening goal against the Roar for the fifth time in meetings between the two sides, maintaining their record of winning every one of those matches.
It was also the first time in the last five games at Pirtek Stadium the Wanderers have managed to beat Brisbane.
Bridge has now scored in three consecutive games for the Wanderers.
Wanderers have now gone the last nine games against the Roar without holding them scoreless, after only conceding once in four matches before that.
The midfield battle. Both of these sides are blessed with some fine technicians in the middle of the park and all their class and technical ability was on show on Saturday night.
The combination play between Wanderers trio Dimas, Andreu and Nichols was exceptional at times, while Corona and Matt McKay for Roar also had their moments.
The home side’s engine-room shaded it on the night before Nichols stole the show towards the end with his howitzer.
THE FINAL WORD
Can anything stop the Wanderers right now. The Red and Blacks overcame an eerie atmosphere and tricky opponent to notch a sixth consecutive win. There’s been nothing lucky about this current streak but it’s about to get it’s sternest test, with champions Victory heading to Wanderland next Saturday night.
It’s now one win from last five matches for Roar. While it’s by no means panic stations and they are still playing some good stuff, the wins haven’t been coming. They’ll be hoping to put that right at home to Wellington next Saturday afternoon.
Western Sydney Wanderers: Redmayne, Neville, Alberto, Topor-Stanley (c), Jamieson, Andreu, Dimas, Nichols (Pepper 83’), Castelen, Bridge (Santalab 62’), Vidosic (Sotirio 73’)
Brisbane Roar: Young, Hingert, Bowles, North, Stefanutto (Clut 83’), Corona, Petratos, McKay (c), Henrique (Borrello 60’), Maclaren, Broich
Scorers: Bridge 29’, Maclaren 36’, Nichols 79’
Red cards: Nil
Yellow cards: Nichols 2’, Stefanutto 10’, Dimas 45+1’, Santalab 90+2’
Conditions: 24C, Fine
Attendance: 9860 @ Pirtek Stadium