Western Sydney will enjoy Christmas in the knowledge they’re five points clear at the top of the A-League ladder after dismantling Newcastle 2-0 on Thursday night, AAP reports. A 10,141-strong crowd turned out at Pirtek Stadium for a tense and open first-ever Christmas Eve fixture.
For all Tony Popovic’s attacking firepower, it was defender Alberto who looked to have ensured the Wanderers blazed to a ninth-successive undefeated match – eight of them wins. That was until the 70th minute when Mark Bridge netted his fifth goal in as many appearances, to ensure the Jets recorded their eighth winless match.
The Wanderers made a sleepy start, but soon awoke to take 22 shots on goal to Newcastle’s eight. Romeo Castelen, back in the starting line-up, terrorised Jets defenders and was unfortunate to have an early shot deflected high, but it was striker Federico Piovaccari who should have put the home side up early.
In the 17th minute, the Italian marquee found himself one-on-one with Jets custodian Mark Birighitti, but somehow sent his effort skywards. For Newcastle, youngster Ryan Kitto was a ubiquitous presence and linked well with David Carney, who bore the brunt of his side’s workload but was shown his fifth yellow card of the season.
Carney’s big chance came just before halftime when the former Socceroo broke through Western Sydney’s defence and played in to Milos Trifunovic. However the Serbian striker struggled on the finishing touch and was ultimately thwarted by Scott Neville’s intervention. Trifunovic would have wished even more he’d buried it when, a few minutes later in first-half timed added on, Alberto notched his first goal for the Wanderers.
The Spaniard capitalised on bad Jets defending and a solid set-piece ball from Scott Jamieson, heading into ground and goal from close range. There was little power in it, but it nevertheless took Birighitti by surprise, slipping through his grasp to leave the keeper wrapped around his own post.
More opportunities came and went in the second half. Carney teed up former Wanderer Mateo Poljak at the edge of the area, but the Croatian lifted high. Bridge then fired over, before Castelen went on a scintillating run and did the same in front of a beckoning net. But Bridge, for all his niggles and managed workload, was not leaving without a goal.
The 30-year-old latched onto Dario Vidosic’s initial blocked shot and, in the ensuing scramble, nipped around onto his right foot to ram home. “He looks focused, he’s got that real hunger about him and the desire to do well,” Popovic said of Bridge. “He’s scoring but he’s a great team player … he’s been with me on this journey from day one, and it’s good to see.”
Miller disputed some refereeing decisions including a “clear handball” by Scott Neville that wasn’t picked up, but he gave credit to Western Sydney’s form. “The players are devastated,” he said. “As a coach you set them up, but you’ve got opposing players and coaches who want to break you down. “They did that. It can’t become a trend, we have to stop it.”