Drama in Campbelltown as Auglah strikes late for Bulls to break Western resolve

A stoppage-time goal for Ali Auglah was the difference in a 1-0 win for Macarthur FC over Western United

Macarthur FC have equalled the club’s best-ever start to an Isuzu UTE A-League season, with Ali Auglah’s first league goal breaking Western United hearts in a 1-0 win to the Bulls at Campbelltown Stadium.

A string of stellar saves from Western United goalkeeper Thomas Heward-Belle kept John Aloisi’s side on level terms up until the 93rd minute, until Auglah benefited from a Ben Garuccio slip in the box to round the keeper and score the winner from a tight angle.

United lost 5-0 to Western Sydney Wanderers in Round 2 but brushed aside a woeful defensive performance with a much-improved outing in Campbelltown; Aloisi’s men looked set to clinch a well-earned point – and even had a pair of chances to snatch all three – before Auglah’s stoppage time winner.

Macarthur are unbeaten after three rounds, winning back-to-back games after a Round 1 draw to shake off last season’s wooden spoon and get off to a flying start in the 2023-24 campaign.

The first half belonged to the keepers, with Filip Kurto and Heward-Belle both pulling off astounding saves to keep the game goalless at the break.

First, it was Macarthur’s Kurto denying Garuccio’s palm-stinging strike from the edge of the area. But soon after the home side began to get on top at Campbelltown Stadium; that’s when Heward-Belle sprung into life.

A turnover from the Western keeper led to a Valere Germain strike on the swivel which was saved low to Heward-Belle’s right. Then came a remarkable stop from the Western gloveman, who scampered across to smother Raphael’s close-range shot after Jed Drew’s perfectly-placed cross off the left wing to the back post.

Yianni Nicolaou floated an opportunity on goal late in the first half, which Heward-Belle scrambled backward to palm over the bar. 

The second half was bereft of chances until late in the piece when a flurry of action breathed life into the contest.

Josh Risdon hit the woodwork for Western, rising high at the back post to meet Ramy Najjarine’s cross and missing by the finest of margins.

Then it was Nikita Rukavytsya’s turn to threaten Macarthur’s goal; the Socceroos striker came off the bench for his first appearance at his new club, and was so close to becoming a hero on debut. His header had power, but lacked accuracy, flashing wide of the mark.

Western’s inaccuracy opened the door for Macarthur to pounce – and when Ben Garuccio slipped in the box after tussling with Lachie Rose, Auglah swept in to take possession, skip past Heward-Belle and finish from a tight angle to seal all three points for the Bulls.

The talking point

From the wooden spoon last season, to seven points from a possible nine to start the new campaign; Macarthur are quietly building under Mile Sterjovski in Campbelltown.

The Bulls arrived at the start of the 2022-23 campaign after lifting the 2022 Australia Cup, and with Dwight Yorke at the helm, and a forward line featuring Daniel Arzani, Al Hassan Toure, Craig Noone and Ulises Davila, expectation was rife for what they might achieve, but seven wins from 26 games, and the mid-season departure of Yorke from his post meant the Bulls faltered to a 12th-placed finish.

The situation couldn’t be more different this season. Sterjovski was handed a two-year extension in April in a showing of faith from the club, and after a more low-profile off-season, the Bulls have burst out of the gates in the new campaign.

A draw against Brisbane preceded wins over Central Coast and Western United; seven points after three rounds is the equal-best start to a season in Bulls history (2021-22).

The star

Ali Auglah’s late winner was his first in the A-Leagues – and the 21-year-old says it was long overdue.

Auglah played 11 games for the Bulls in his first season at the club, but failed to put his name on the scoresheet in any of those appearances.

“It’s been a long time coming!” He said. “Since last season when I came here. Finally, it’s good to get a goal now, and get the three points for the boys.

As his late goal sealed three points for Macarthur, Auglah paid credit to club captain Ulises Davila for acting as his inspiration in the dressing room, as a standard-setter for him to follow.

“Uli Davila especially has been very important in my development.

“He carries himself, even through all his struggles he’s been carrying himself like a real man. It’s good to have him. And the likes of Valère Germain coming in as well from France, it’s good to get advice from them.”

What they said

It was a hard result to stomach for Western United, but in the aftermath, winger Lachlan Wales spoke admirably about his side’s commendable performance.

Western came into Round 3 after of a 5-0 hiding against the Wanderers – but Wales was eager to point out that his side were much improved in a goalless second half in Round 2 – and carried their determined effort into Saturday’s clash with the Bulls.

“It’s tough, considering last week we had a poor result,” he said.

“I thought the reaction was top – especially in the second half tonight, the whole game was down (our) end. (Risdon) hit the post and (Rukavytsya) had a good chance as well. Probably unlucky to concede at the end, I think Benny (Garuccio) slipped over. That’s football, it’s a tough game, it’s a game of inches.

“It’s early in the season, there are good signs. Last week was one of the toughest weeks of our careers: 5-0 down at half-time, and even the second half last week and tonight showed we’ve got good character and we’ll get results going forward. 

“You’ve got to have belief, in any walk of life you’ve got to get back up after being knocked down. It’s a great group of lads, and we’ll never give up.

“Tonight it was that close, and as you saw at the end, a good finish from the young lad, and that was the game. One chance, we didn’t take ours, and they took theirs.”

What it means

Macarthur are preparing for another tough week juggling Asian football and domestic games. The Bulls host Pnom Penh Crown in a must-win AFC Cup clash on Thursday night, before travelling to AAMI Park on Sunday, November 12 to take on Melbourne City.

Western United will take encouragement from their display against Macarthur, and a home game against Newcastle Jets presents on the Round 4 calendar.