Melbourne Heart 0 Western Sydney Wanderers 1
Jeremy Walker of the Heart and Adam D’Apuzzo of the Wanderers contest the ball. Photo: Getty Images
When your luck’s out, nothing ever seems to go your way. When you are on a roll, everything falls in your favour. Thus it was that Melbourne Heart, despite a frantic finale and plenty of desperation, could not salvage anything from a typically resilient Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Tony Popovic’s side was good enough to take one of a handful of chances that fell their way and then contain the hosts for over an hour to snare a win and the three points that takes them, at least temporarily, to the top of the A-League ladder.
That losing feeling: Aziz Behich of the Heart reacts after the final whistle. Photo: Getty Images
Heart are marooned at the foot of the table with just two points from their opening five games. It might be a bit early to talk of crunch matches, but next Friday night’s home game against Sydney FC does look to have a critical air about it.
This game began in a fashion all too familiar to the hardy band of Heart faithful used to enduring periods of frustration with their side, who often begin games well before losing their way.
The hosts got off to a typically bright start with a rather different looking line-up, featuring debutant Paulo Retre in midfield in place of the injured Andrea Migliorini and Golgol Mebrahtu restored to the starting side wide on the right in place of Mate Dugandzic.
Maltese striker Michael Mifsud got involved right away, setting up Mebrahtu for a header that the striker put wide. The Eritrean-born forward then shot over after Massimo Murdocca won possession and fed the ball through, and it looked as though the bottom of the league Heart might be in the mood to embarrass the Wanderers.
But in equally typical fashion West Sydney began to impose the sort of stranglehold on this match that has been their stock in trade.
Strong and physically imposing, the visitors – who gave an A-League debut to their new signing, former Socceroo centre back Matthew Spiranovic – began to assert themselves.
It’s not that they did so much with the ball in the opening period, but after that initial flurry they quickly stopped Heart from making anything of the possession they enjoyed, taking the sting out of the hosts before beginning to mount some threats of their own.
There was, therefore, a sense of inevitability about the way the game broke open in the 27th minute when Western Sydney took the lead.
Adam D’Apuzzo, the Wanderers left back, was left with too much time and space on the flank, Heart’s defenders failed to cope with his cross, and Shannon Cole was able to fire in a shot that beat Andrew Redmayne. It might not have been all that they deserved at that stage, but it’s the sort of thing that the Wanderers specialise in, squeezing the hopes of their opponent and then delivering a sucker punch.
In fact, the visitors should have doubled their advantage five minutes later when Spiranovic’s header came back off the bar and Brendon Santalab somehow managed to miss from point-blank range.
Heart had threatened sporadically before the goal, Mifsud firing into the side netting from Iain Ramsay’s pass, and again after, when a David Williams drive from outside the area struck the bar.