Wanderers fail in bid for home final
WESTERN Sydney Wanderers know they will have to make history to reach the grand final, after a 0-0 draw with Melbourne Victory ensured Tony Popovic's side will open the finals with a road trip.
Unable to secure a fourth straight A-League win, the Wanderers can only finish fifth or sixth now with just next week's trip to Adelaide to come.
For a side with multiple Asian Champions League commitments coming up, an away final almost certainly with either Melbourne City or Brisbane will prove a substantial test of stamina - though possibly with the incentive of a semifinal against Sydney FC the week after.
Guaranteed of finals football thanks to Wellington's draw with Sydney FC earlier in the day - a rare occurrence of the Sky Blues doing the Red and Black a favour - it almost seemed as if the knowledge had sapped a little of the vibrancy of Western Sydney's football in recent weeks.
Admittedly the same was true of Victory, themselves assured of second place and effectively marking time until their own semifinal in three weeks' time. Though the directness of their football occasionally threatened to puncture the home side's back line, Vedran Janjetovic was hardly a much busier keeper than Lawrence Thomas.
Besart Berisha did have the ball in the back of the net once, fastening on to Marco Rojas's through ball and firing past Janjetovic, only to hear the deflating sound of a whistle for offside. Not even the video ref could help Berisha, who clearly had run too early.
James Troisi did test Janjetovic with a curler that was well tipped away, and with halftime beckoning Jonathan Aspropotamitis produced an excellently timed challenge to deny Berisha at the near post.
From the home side there was industry but too little spark. Terry Antonis was their go-to figure in midfield, but too often he elected to shoot from distance without troubling Thomas. Western Sydney's best chance came via a horrible turnover that left Nicolas Martinez through on goal, but the Argentine's shot was lacking conviction, and Thomas saved it with comfort.
With Brendon Santalab well marshalled by the figures of Nick Ansell and James Donachie, it was hard to see where Western Sydney's threat would come from. Jumpei Kusukami toiled manfully across the front line without ever really convincing, something of a summary for his season as a whole.
Western Sydney's cause was aided with 35 minutes of the contest left, thanks to some brainless challenges from Daniel Georgievski. In the first half the fullback had cut down Kusukami to earn a yellow card, seemingly in protest at a previous refereeing decision, and on 55 minutes he slid through clumsily on Scott Neville. Though Georgievski protested that he had won the ball - and to some degree had - lunging in with both feet invited the second yellow he duly received, followed immediately by the red card.
As the minutes ticked down, finally the Wanderers began to find a head of steam, but still couldn't find much in the way of a clear-cut opportunities. Shot after shot was charged down at source, with Victory showing the defensive focus demanded by Kevin Muscat.
Martinez did engineer space to get one shot on target but Thomas produced a full-length save and the stalemate was complete.