Western Sydney Wanderers were finally able to greet their fans on home turf for the first time since that historic night against Al-Hilal for the first-leg of their Asian Champions League final. This time however there was to be no Cinderella story as a resolute and impressive Central Coast Mariners outfit were able to battle to a 0-0 draw in front of 14,691 supporters. In a match that had its fair share of chances for both sides perhaps the Mariners will be feeling all the more pleased with their efforts.
Tony Popovic rang the changes yet again for this first home game of the 2014/15 season, this time making nine alterations to the team that went 2-1 down to the Glory last weekend. Phil Moss on the other hand, considerably buoyed by his side’s exertions from the dramatic 2-2 draw against Melbourne City named an unchanged line-up.
In all honesty the majority of the first half saw chances come few and far between for both sides. The attacking intent seemed to be locked in a constant midfield battle for the ball that at times rarely featured anything of importance. An excellent counter-attack by the Mariners allowing Mitch Duke to fire a deflected effort on goal seemed the only legitimate highlight on offer.
Despite this the last five minutes saw the game begin to change in tempo as Tomi Juric had the first genuine chance on goal with only Liam Reddy to beat. Unfortunately for the Socceroo the angle of the shot hindered his chances and his effort flashed just wide of the far post. Soon after and another chance could have resulted in a goal if it weren’t for Nick Montgomery’s crucial intervention as Juric’s cut-back at the byline was booted away before Castelen could apply a finish. The following corner almost saw the home side notch a goal once more as a scuffle to make contact with the shot amidst the sea of bodies in the box saw the ball trickle wide and out of play.
The second half saw Central Coast emerge the more dominant of the two sides and could have had a chance almost instantly as Matt Sim saw his 50th minute shot well parried by a desperate Ante Covic looking to make amends for his failure to deal with the initial aerial delivery. While Iacopo La Rocca did well to turn away from Zac Anderson and sting the palms of Liam Reddy it was the visitors who looked all the more threatening to break the deadlock. As the red-and-blacks struggled to get their danger men into the contest, “the Coasties” pressed well and held possession confidently.
In the space of three or so minutes before the hour mark Mitch Duke continued to impress as the spearhead in his side’s attack as he created two goalscoring chances for both Nick Fitzgerald and John Hutchinson. The former’s sight on goal resulted from a well-thought-out flick-on header from Duke which then allowed the young winger to be put into the box. Fortunately for the Wanderers his lob sailed high over the bar. Duke’s second potential assist came once more from the high ball as he nodded down for ‘Captain Courageous’ John Hutchinson to break into a one-on-one situation with Covic. However the Maltese international was unable to execute the finish and ultimately fouled the Wanderers custodian.
As the game entered a lull once more, Western Sydney were able to fashion a chance from out of nothing by way of the newly introduced Mark Bridge. A 65th minute long throw-in by Shannon Cole allowed the ball to skid along the surface and away from a Mariners defenders before deflecting to the aforementioned Bridge who’s shot was well blocked by Liam Reddy in the end. The home side’s next nearly-netted opportunity came a quarter of an hour from time as a well worked pass-and-move manoeuvre into the Mariners penalty area saw Vitor Saba’s low drive well-saved by Reddy once more.
Tomi Juric had the chance to give his side all three points just before stoppage time when he did well to outmuscle his opposing defenders and get a head to the in-swinging cross. To his frustration, his contact was minimal and the ball bounced harmlessly wide of goal. This late onslaught to try and grab this elusive first win of the season presented yet another chance for the hosts, this time coming midway through injury time. As Mark Bridge slickly spun away from his two markers and fed Castelen into the box, the Dutchman with quick feet of his own to evade oncoming challenges then played the ball to an open La Rocca square on goal. Any goal here would truly represent a smash and grab: undeservingly robbing the Central Coast of a well-deserved result that at times could have had the match won in their favour. Nevertheless it wasn’t to be for Tony Popovic and his men as La Rocca air-swung for the ball; followed by Shannon Cole firing high and wide.
Kris Griffiths-Jones’ full-time whistle signified frustration from Western Sydney and satisfaction from the Mariners. Central Coast seem to be reaping the rewards from the hard work being put in despite the off-field dramas that have circulated the club as of late. Phil Moss will be looking to build on his side’s recent draws by claiming a win at home to Adelaide this Sunday. For Popovic, there will be a greater demand for more clinical and convincing performances from his side that will now enjoy the next three games at home beginning with Newcastle Jets on Saturday. Nonetheless, after 90 minutes of football out at Pirtek Stadium it ends all square at nil apiece.
Western Sydney Wanderers 0 Central Coast Mariners 0
FTS Man of the Match: Mitchell DukeGoogle+