Man-down Wanderers show real heart

He does it again … Shinji Ono after scoring the winning goal at Parramatta Stadium.
He does it again … Shinji Ono after scoring the winning goal at Parramatta Stadium.

ABOUT the only blemish for the Wanderers so far in their inaugural season has been their mediocre record at home.

They've made serious inroads into that peculiarity in recent weeks, but no more so than on Saturday night, overcoming Melbourne Heart despite spending all but the first 12 minutes of the match with just 10 men.

''That's another first for us,'' coach Tony Popovic said afterwards. ''The boys have shown that, down to 10 men, they're not just going gung-ho. They're playing within a structure, they're playing with belief and confidence. I certainly would have been proud after the game whether we won or lost that one.''

In a pulsating clash in front of a raucous 14,624-strong crowd, the Wanderers seemed doomed after the dismissal of Jerome Polenz for a last-ditch foul on David Williams. But a game-changing save by Ante Covic from the resulting penalty sparked a home-team revolt that lasted the rest of the match.

Appearing to play in a higher gear, the Wanderers earned a penalty of their own when David Vrankovic - already on a yellow from an infringement in the first half - brought down Youssouf Hersi in the 72nd minute. Shinji Ono went to the same side Josip Tadic had earlier, but Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne went the other way. It was cruel for Redmayne, who was superb amid the onslaught. But the win was no less than the Wanderers deserved.

''You could see at half-time in the change room, they really believed they could win,'' Popovic said. ''It wasn't just hope. There was a lot of belief in that dressing room. I thought we got a deserved goal in the end.''

John Aloisi agreed. ''We can't be performing like that,'' the Heart coach said. ''It's not good enough - from everyone. Everyone talks about Fred being out, Simon Colosimo and Aziz [Behich], but we've got a squad and the squad has to turn up and play, no matter who plays.

''We were flat from the word go. We weren't good. They totally outplayed us. They were better than us. It's disappointing because, 10 against 11, you expect it to be the other way around.''

The win puts the league's newest club into third place and even Popovic is starting to get excited.

''We've had an outstanding second third [of the season] - we can't deny that,'' he said. ''Now we come into the real business end, the final nine games. The goal for us is to see how far we can go, how far we can maintain this run. I'm sure there will be hiccups but we're in a good place.

''If you finish in the six, you have a chance of winning the title. That's how the format is this year. There's no second chance for first and second. So the team that comes sixth has an opportunity to win it. If we're in that six, we've got as good a chance as anyone.''

Pleasing for the coach, too, is their improving home record, which stands at five wins from 10 matches.

By the end of a breathless first half, two players had been booked, one sent off, a penalty had been saved and both goalkeepers had been worked over. Yet, the score remained 0-0. The penalty came after Polenz was shown a straight red. Tadic struck to Covic's left and the goalkeeper smacked it away with his palms.

Popovic replaced Aaron Mooy with Iacopo La Rocca, who went to right full-back. But the Wanderers continued to press, particularly on the right wing where Hersi caused problems. The home side attacked until the dying moments of the half.

In the second half, Heart held some possession. But the Wanderers rose again, with Hersi and Dino Kresinger each thwarted in one-on-ones by Redmayne.

This story Man-down Wanderers show real heart first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.