Sydney FC’s 13-game unbeaten A-League streak ended as it started – with a 1-0 defeat to rivals Western Sydney Wanderers.
And in a further piece of serendipity, Wanderers captain Mitch Duke – as he had done back in Round 3 – was on hand to provide the magic for his hometown club as he headed home in the 81st minute to give the Red and Black its second Sydney Derby win of the season.
A game not without controversy before and in the game itself, a final piece of spite was added to the contest when Daniel Georgievski received a VAR-adjudicated red card after lashing out at Sydney FC teen Marco Tilio in the dying stages.
The Wanderers defender then clashed with Sydney FC boss Steve Corica in the tunnel following the game’s conclusion on Friday evening.
“I thought he obviously deserved the red card for kicking out at Marco Tilio, so that’s the way it goes. That’s football,” Corica said post-game.
“He’s a competitor and he made a mistake as well, kicking out, because you can’t have that. Especially in the face.”
But despite all the aggro, as the flare smoke cleared around Netstrata Jubilee Stadium the unmistakable reality was that Wanderers are still undefeated under interim boss Jean-Paul de Marigny, within a game of the top six and, for now, kings of the head-to-head Sydney A-League scene.
Of course, it is important not to put too much stock into the Wanderers’ recent purple patch – they were briefly top of the league at the start of the season before Markus Babbel’s side dropped off dramatically.
But for those in red and black, they are beginning to believe.
“We’re starting to creep into finals football and that’s our target,” Duke told Fox Sports.
“We can really scare teams and [cause] upsets. And if we make it to the finals, I think we can go all the way.”
W-League finals confirmed
Though Melbourne City had wrapped up the Premiership in Round 11, the W-League finals race remained unsettled heading into the last week of the season, with four sides – Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar – all competing for three finals slots.
Results on Saturday ended the fifth-placed Roar’s finals hopes, though, before it even had a chance to play City on Sunday afternoon.
Victory’s 3-1 defeat of Sydney confirmed that it would leapfrog the Sky Blues into second position on the W-League table, and Western Sydney’s tense 3-2 triumph over Perth Glory meant that it could not be overhauled regardless of Sunday’s result.
City beat Brisbane anyway 3-1 to end the regular season undefeated.
As a result, City will host Wanderers in a battle of first against fourth on March 15 at ABD Stadium, while second-placed Victory will meet Sydney again on March 14 at Epping Stadium.
Victory’s finals hopes
The Original Rivalry is always a huge occasion on the A-League calendar, but Saturday evening’s meeting at Marvel Stadium was even bigger than normal.
Melbourne Victory’s finals hopes – already hanging by a thread – would have been all but dashed had it failed to get a win over the Reds.
Carlos Salvachúa declared the contest the first of a series of ‘finals’ games for his side.
It was a game in which Victory needed a hero and, in the much-maligned Andrew Nabbout, it found one.
The Socceroos attacker – his left eye almost swollen shut – let loose with a thunderous effort in the 91st minute to secure a 2-1 win for Victory, moving it within six points of the sixth-placed Brisbane Roar.
Berisha scores against the Mariners … again
Western United had not scored in three games before the weekend’s action, but Mark Rudan’s side certainly made up for lost time against Central Coast on Sunday afternoon.
A Max Burgess hat-trick – combined with a Besart Berisha brace and an Andrew Durante goal – helped United to a 6-2 win at GMHBA Stadium in the highest-scoring game of the 2019-20 A-League season.
Berisha’s double also meant the A-League’s record goalscorer became the first player to score 20 goals against a single opponent.
Invincible no more
Liverpool may be experiencing a season for the ages in the English Premier League, but there is at least one record it will not be able to claim in 2019-20.
Downed 3-0 by Watford in its first league loss of the season on Sunday morning (AEDT), Jürgen Klopp’s side can no longer join Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003-04 in going through an entire season undefeated.
Liverpool is still a whopping 22 points clear of second-placed Manchester City and seem certainties to win the league, but the undefeated record is one less thing the club’s supporters will be able to talk about at the end of the season.
One last thing …
How about this for a finish?
Friday: Sydney FC 0-1 Western Sydney Wanderers
Saturday: Newcastle Jets 2-1 Perth Glory; Melbourne Victory 2-1 Adelaide United
Sunday: Western United 6-2 Central Coast Mariners; Melbourne City 1-0 Brisbane Roar
Thursday: Adelaide United 2-1 Newcastle Jets
Saturday: Melbourne Victory 3-1 Sydney FC; Perth Glory 2-3 Western Sydney Wanderers
Sunday: Melbourne City 3-1 Brisbane Roar