Mitchell Duke's late heroics earned Western Sydney Wanderers a dream return to Wanderland in a come-from-behind 2-1 win against the Central Coast Mariners.
The first-half exploded into life on 36 minutes when Serbian debutant Milan Duric let fly with a stunning 20-yard strike to silence the vocal home crowd and edge Central Coast ahead.
But Captain Duke led by example and hit back for Western Sydney five minutes later, flicking Pirmin Schwegler’s corner into the near post of Mark Birighitti’s goal.
Jordan Murray spurned a golden opportunity to spoil the homecoming party on 70 minutes when Daniel Lopar denied his effort and the Mariners’ striker fired over at the second attempt.
Birighitti made a stunning double save to thwart Wanderers’ substitutes Kosta Grozos and Mohamed Adam as a tense second-half began to open up.
A VAR decision awarded a penalty against Dylan Fox for handball, and Duke stayed composed to score on 82 minutes. He then turned defensive savior, hacking a late scramble off the Wanderers goal-line to clinch a dramatic victory.
Elrich departs in cagey opening half hour
Babbel’s side embraced the electric atmosphere as German marquee Pirmin Schwegler let a shot fly that would have blown the proverbial roof off Bankwest Stadium had it not found the arms of keeper Mark Birighitti on four minutes.
Stajcic’s side grew into the game and broke Western Sydney’s flow, which was disrupted further when Tarek Elrich was forced off with a hamstring injury. The hosts' only remaining foundation player was replaced on 16 minutes by 18-year-old Daniel Wilmering, who was an 11-year-old ball boy at the Wanderers' inaugural match in Parramatta.
The change forced Daniel Georgievski to switch from left wing-back to right, and the former Newcastle Jet fired a 21st-minute effort wide before Wilmering's 30th-minute header could not beat Birighitti.
Duric's rocket stuns Wanderland
Mariners' new playmaker Milan Duric silenced Bankwest Stadium, for a moment a least, with a stunning shot from the edge of the box on 36 minutes.
Jordan Murray's hold up play brought the Serbian into the fray and the 32-year-old unleashed a rocket.
The strike took a deflection and flew in off the crossbar, leaving Swiss shot-stopper Daniel Lopar with no chance.
Duke heads Western Sydney level
Western Sydney offered a fast responce as Central Coast's lead lasted a mere five minutes.
Duke played a captain's roll, leaping highest at the near post to head in Schwegler's 41st-minute corner.
Mariners gloveman Birighitti got both hands on the ball but could not keep it out of the net as Wanderland erupted.
Murray spurns golden chance to edge Mariners ahead
One moment Wanderers were pressing, the next, Tommy Oar launched a counter-attack and the home side were on the back foot.
The former Caltex Socceroo found Murray in space but the 24-year-old striker could only fire against the legs of Lopar. The second bite flew harmlessly over in the 70th minute.
Birighitti double save denies Wanderers substitutes
Kosta Grozos drove forward with possession and ripped off a low 20-yard drive which Birighitti was forced to parry to the side of his goal.
Adam was quickest to the loose ball and had a clear sight on goal from a narrow angle, but Birighitti made an impressive recovery to block and gather the attempt.
Duke strikes from the penalty spot
The captain showed ice in his veins to give Wanderers an 82nd-minute lead.
After the VAR overturned the referee’s decision and awarded a spot-kick for handball against Dylan Fox, Duke kept his cool to stroke the ball into the back of the net.