All the pre-match talk may have been about Mariners’ new signing Luis Garcia but it was Mark Bridge who stole the show during the Wanderers’ last minute win against Central Coast.
Heading into his 100th match for Western Sydney Wanderers, Bridge was handed the captain’s armband and responded in style: grabbing the opener in the 11th minute and having a hand in almost all of the Red & Black’s attacks.
It was a dream return for Brendon Santalab too who scored the winner in the 88th minute in a brilliant play that involved all three second half substitutes.
The last placed Mariners have endured a torrid season but they started enthusiastically, harrying and hacking the Wanderers early in a scrappy start.
It didn’t take the Wanderers long to grab the ascendancy but their opening goal was all down to a moment of calamity from Storm Roux whose errant back pass was seized and duly dispatched by Bridge.
Bridge’s calm finish was his sixth goal of the season: the forward’s best return since his award-winning year in season one.
The underperforming Mariners had been galvanised earlier in the week by the arrival of former European star Garcia but there was no added sense of a home fortress here as Tony Walmsey’s men trembled in a Wanderers onslaught that saw Dario Vidosic hit the post and Romeo Castelen go close on several occasions.
It wasn’t until the second half that the home side mounted their first sustained spell of pressure. For the first time, the Wanderers found themselves reeling defensively and a hard-working Mariners side began to chip away at the Red & Black resistance.
With momentum coursing through the veins of the home side, Garcia was injected into the game upon the hour mark and the Central Coast marquee provided the creative nous the Mariners attack sorely needed.
Following what looked suspiciously like a foul on Romeo Castelen, Garcia prised open the Wanderers back four in the build up to Fabio Ferreira’s leveller: helped no end by a patchy playing surface that fell away at Andrew Redmayne’s feet, denying the keeper the chance to dive on the ball.
Ferreira had the chance to bring the house down minutes later after the Wanderers failed to clear their lines but the goal scorer nudged the ball inches wide of Andrew Redmayne’s post with the goal at his mercy.
Temperatures reached boiling point with ten minutes to go when Nick Montgomery was sent off for a reckless sliding challenge on Golgol Mebrahtu: a dangerous and inexcusable tackle from the Mariners skipper.
Mebrahtu, who has suffered from ACL and MCL tears, was fortunate not to sustain any permanent damage from the irresponsible Montgomery.
But just when it seemed the Mariners might hold on for a point, Tony Popovic’s three second half substitutes combined for a fairy tale winner.
Mebrahtu, who had returned to the pitch after seeing the physio, applied considerable pressure on the ball carrier that allowed Mitch Nichols to steal the ball.
Nichols then fed Kearyn Baccus who advance to the byline for a pinpoint cross into the danger area with Paul Izzo only able to palm the danger straight into the path of Brendon Santalab, who sent a packed out away terrace into raptures.
The win returns the Wanderers to the top of the Hyundai A-League table and sets-up a juicy fixture on Friday as the Red & Black look to exact revenge on Melbourne City.
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