Goals on either side of the break were enough for Western Sydney Wanderers to overcome a lacklustre Central Coast Mariners outfit and secure their second victory of the season.
In what was a scrappy opening, both sides traded blows to limited success for the majority of the first half.
However deep into stoppage time, the deadlock was broken thanks to an unlikely source. A forceful strike from Keanu Baccus nestled into the bottom corner, providing the 20-year-old midfielder with his first A-League goal.
Heading into the second half, the hosts comfortably restricted all Mariners’ efforts at restoring parity before sealing the contest on 68 minutes. Ben Kennedy clawed away Bruce Kamau’s curled effort, however Josh Sotirio took advantage of a lethargic reaction from the visitor’s back line to tap home the second.
Western Sydney will now head into next week’s Sydney Derby with their heads held a little higher than they may have been, while Central Coast face yet another case of ‘back to the drawing board’ as they continue their quest for an elusive three points.
Season starter or false hope?
Despite entering Friday’s contest winless in three matches, the Wanderers found themselves back inside the top six by the conclusion of proceedings. However while Markus Babbel should savour these heavily-desired three points, his side’s performance itself still posed a plethora of questions, magnified by the lack of quality displayed by their opponents.
Defensively, apart from a couple of moments of madness, they appeared a different side to that demolished last week in Melbourne. However looking forward, there still appeared a lack of ruthlessness in capitalising on the rich creative vein offered by Alexander Baumjohann.
Oriol Riera saw a hatful of chances go begging, many of which Wanderers fans would have expected him to bury considering last season’s form. And while Josh Sotirio finally found himself on the scoresheet, he could continue to develop his decision-making in the final third.
Regardless, while many will demand a sterner litmus test to reveal the Wanderer’s true colours, next week’s derby is sure to offer just that.
Ziegler to the rescue
Wanderers fans shared a collective sigh of relief when Friday night’s team sheet confirmed that Tarek Elrich would no longer be lining up at centre-back following last outing’s horrorshow. And there was a strong means for optimism considering his replacement would be one-time Bundesliga defender Patrick Ziegler.
The German immediately lived up to the hype, contributing some much needed composure at the back to providing a Wanderers clean sheet for only the second time this season.
Although a lack of match fitness looked to catch up to the German late on, the defender completed his first 90 minutes in the A-League unscathed; a worthy boost for the Wanderers as they look to turn a page on their early-season woes.
Where to now for Mulvey’s men?
Friday night was a cruel continuation of the Mariners’ current fortunes: a solid, competitive performance that ultimately provided nothing to show for it. Consistency is an issue; key players seem to float in and out of the contest with no real accountability. For extended periods, Central Coast appeared disjointed in attack and uncertain in defence.
Yet the squad itself holds a useful combination of experience and exciting young talent that, on paper, should be capable of amassing a far heftier points tally than what has unfolded. However outside flashes of class, and the growing form of Matt Millar, it is yet to all come together for Mike Mulvey’s men. And time is running out.
While it would not be right to call for his head just yet, if this Mariners dry spell is to endure, pressure on the championship-winning manager will surely mount. Next week’s trip to Wellington may be the opportunity for that fiercely desired victory, and boy does Mike Mulvey need it.