March 29, 2013
Wanderers down Jets to win Premiers' Plate
After clinching the Premiers' Plate in their fairytale maiden season, Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic declared his side the true A-League champions but says their job's not done until they've won the grand final.
The Wanderers' 3-0 win over Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Friday secured the silverware making them the first expansion club in Australian football history to win a trophy in their debut season.
The victory however, put the final nail in the Jets' coffin, who needed a win to keep alive their finals hopes, instead finishing their season in eighth place.
"I'm obviously happy, content. No real big feelings right now," an almost speechless Popovic said.
"Maybe because I'm new at this I don't really know what to feel," the first-time head coach said.
A Mark Bridge brace in the opening half and a late Rocky Visconte missile sealed the win in front of a massive travelling contingent of close to 10,000 vocal Wanderers fans.
The Wanderers will be presented with the Plate in front of a home crowd in their next match - the first semi-final on April 12 at Parramatta Stadium.
Many doubted the heavily depleted side would be up to the task of taking on a fiercely desperate Jets outfit needing victory.
They were missing injured players Shinji Ono (groin) and Aaron Mooy (knee) in midfield and defenders Adam D'Apuzzo (foot) and Jerome Polenz (quad), while versatile Iacopo La Rocca is banned for the rest of the season for his elbow on Sydney's Terry Antonis in last week's derby.
But the Wanderers were boosted by the return of skipper Michael Beauchamp and crafty midfielder Youssouf Hersi back from suspension.
It took just six minutes for the Wanderers to signal their intent, and ironically it was three ex-Jets players combining to score the first goal in front of a 22,518-strong crowd.
Tarek Elrich played the long ball with Labinot Haliti sending it across the face of goal for the waiting Bridge who made no mistake with the finish.
Bridge struck again in the 33rd minute with Visconte putting the game beyond doubt in the 80th minute with a 20-metre screamer.
But Popovic said there was no time for celebrating.
"They can celebrate now in the change room and enjoy the bus trip back," he said.
"But there's still more to come. There's still more to do."
The Wanderers' minor premiership feat earns them an automatic berth into the lucrative Asian Champions League where, like most leagues, the team who finishes first past the post are considered champions.
Western Sydney finish the regular season having won 11 of the last 12 games, a accomplishment Popovic says will give them the confidence they need in the finals series.
"We go in there with a lot of belief and confidence and we go in as the premiers, that's a fact. We go into Asia now," he said.
"Although in this country the grand final winners are recognised as the champions and we have to respect that.
"But around the world you come first in the league you're a worthy champion and that's what I'll be telling the players.
"But there's still a job to do.
"So we'll do everything we can to get ourselves to the grand final."
|Newcastle Jets||Western Sydney FC|
|20 Mark Birighitti||1 Ante Covic|
|5 Dominik Ritter||11 Tarek Elrich|
|11 Connor Chapman||5 Michael Beauchamp|
|3 Zenon Caravella||4 Nikolai ToporStanley|
|8 Ruben Zadkovich||2 Shannon Cole|
|19 Michael Bridges||17 Youssouf Hersi|
|12 Joshua Brillante||26 Yianni Perkatis|
|15 Craig Goodwin||8 Mateo Poljak|
|9 Emile Heskey||19 Mark Bridge|
|21 Marko Jesic||7 Labinot Haliti|
|22 Adam Taggart||9 Dino Kresinger|
|1 Ben Kennedy||Carlos Saliadarre 30|
|2 Scott Neville||Rocky Visconte 16|
|7 James Brown||Jason Trifiro 23|
|17 James Virgili||Kwabena Appiah-Kubi 14|
|Scott Neville for Marko Jesic (46)||Jason Trifiro for Yianni Perkatis (69)|
|James Brown for Michael Bridges (66)||Rocky Visconte for Tarek Elrich (75)|
|James Virgili for Craig Goodwin (66)||Kwabena Appiah-Kubi for Youssouf Hersi (84)|
|Emile Heskey (37)|
|Dominik Ritter (69)|
|· Squads: Newcastle Jets | Western Sydney FC|