Another underwhelming performance from the Western Sydney Wanderers has seen them slump to their twelfth defeat this season as Brisbane Roar took full advantage to secure a 1-0 win at Suncorp Stadium.
Despite the closeness of the final result, the Roar created vastly more chances and were seldom pressured by the visitors, who produced one of the weariest displays of a dreadful campaign.
However, they very nearly pinched an undeserving draw deep into into injury time, when substitute Tomi Juric let fly with an effort that struck the underside of the crossbar and then bounced on the line below. Juric celebrated – an attempt to convince the linesman more than anything else – but play was waved on and Brandon Borrello’s 53rd minute strike would decide the outcome.
The win hoists Brisbane into the top six, displacing Melbourne City, and boasting a game in hand. Based on City’s poor showing against the Mariners earlier in the day, the three-time champions must surely be favourites to hold onto the final spot in the top six.
Despite talking up his side’s form on Friday, the table suggested this would be a battle for the Wanderers, who had lost eight of their nine away games heading into this clash.
Popovic’s much-talked about rotation policy was again enforced with Ante Covic sent to the bench, allowing reserve goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis a rare opportunity between the posts. Attacking midfielder Jashua Sotirio was also given a shot, slotting into the left-hand side.
It was also a reunion with the Wanderers’ former right-back Jerome Polenz, a player who surged down the Parramatta wings with a relentless energy in the first two years.
That battle with the 19-year old Sotirio was the most engaging duel of the first-half, the pair frequently tangling, with Polenz typically treading a fine line at times. Both had their moments and the youngster lost no admirers.
The first-half was played at a tempo perhaps symptomatic of external factors, with both sides coming off draining midweek encounters in the Asian Champions League – the Roar having to come all the way back from Japan after their shock win over Urawa Red Diamonds.
Not helping matters was the combination of a pitch that was badly cut up from back-to-back rugby league and rugby union matches on successive days before.
The best chance of the first half came when Brisbane star Thomas Broich put Jean Carlos Solorzano away and despite a heavy touch he was still able to get away a decent shot that Bouzanis did well to deflect.
Brisbane had more of the possession and chances early but, by the same token, weren’t always as polished as coach Frans Thijssen would have liked. Yet the visitors offered hardly anything in attack, with Sotirio the only outlet of interest.
Both sides were guilty of turning the ball over regularly, although the heat and the pitch condition had plenty to do with the lack of control on either side.
Wanderers’ No.10 Mark Bridge – perhaps labouring from his heavy workload in recent weeks – was taken off at half-time in favour of Yojiro Takahagi as Tony Popovic sought to find a more creative outlet.
However, Brisbane were the ones turning up the heat when the two sides emerged for the second half, Broich and Brattan endeavouring to pin the Wanderers deep in their own half.
Seven minutes after the restart, their reward would come. Polenz caught Sotirio unawares as the Wanderers were trying to play out from defence, and he quickly surged forward before seeing Borrello move into space. The Adelaide-born forward jinked past Nikolai Topor-Stanley all too easily before firing inside the far post.
Borrello could have iced the result after the hour mark when he was clear on goal and decided to chip a bouncing ball over Bouzanis, only to see it loop onto the bar and out of play.
Defender Topor-Stanley had a fine chance thereafter but his header, from Takahagi’s free-kick, was palmed wide by Jamie Young. As the minutes ticked by, Juric’s late chance was as close as the Wanderers would get from an otherwise uninspiring performance.
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