Western Sydney Wanderers have come from two goals down to earn a hard-fought point in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Brisbane Roar in tough conditions at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
Nikola Mileusnic and Jack Hingert scored in quick succession to put the Roar two goals clear after 15 minutes, but Wanderers forward Nicolas Milanovic fired back just 33 seconds into the second half giving the visitors hope.
Brisbane had chances to put the result to bed but failed to do so, opening the door for the Wanderers to strike late through a glancing Marcus Antonsson header in the 88th minute.
The Roar could have leapt to the top of the Isuzu UTE A-League table with a three-point display, but instead the Wanderers retained their status as league leaders on the night Shae Cahill, son of legendary Socceroo Tim Cahill, made his Isuzu UTE A-League debut for Brisbane off the bench in the second half.
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The 2-2 draw played out after a lengthy delay to kick-off following lightning strikes near Suncorp Stadium in the build-up to the game.
For the Wanderers, they hold top spot heading into the weekend – but head coach Marko Rudan will be eagerly awaiting an update on the health of centre-back and captain Marcelo who went down with what Rudan confirmed as an Achilles tendon injury post-game.
Brisbane began on the front foot in a blistering start to the action – but it was the Wanderers who carved out the first opportunity of the night, with Lachlan Brook’s whipped shot off the right wing calling Macklin Freke into a diving save.
Jack Clisby picked out Antonsson with a cross and the Swede headed wide as the visitors threatened to open the scoring – but then came a one-two punch from the Roar.
Mileusnic put Brisbane in front with what was the club’s 700th Isuzu UTE A-League goal. He was set free down the right by a masterful through pass by Antonee Burke-Gilroy, slotted between Western Sydney’s two left-sided defenders. Mileusnic did the rest, rifling a shot past Lawrence Thomas at his near post.
Two minutes later the hosts were two goals to the good. A sustained period of pressure in and around the box led to Joe Caletti playing Mileusnic toward the byline. His cutback cross was met with a first-time shot from defender Hingert, who swept home just his fourth A-Leagues goal in his 264th game.
“Hints of ‘Roarcelona’!” Exclaimed Paramount+ co-commentator Andy Harper as Hingert celebrated the second goal, harkening back to the days of Ange Postecoglou’s powerhouse Roar side of the mid-2010’s.
“It’s beautiful football from the men in orange!”
The Wanderers trailed 2-0 after 15 minutes – and just after the half-hour mark came another blow when centre-back and captain Marcelo received treatment before being withdrawn from the game with an Achilles tendon injury.
Roar full-back Burke-Gilroy, who assisted the opener, was another first-half casualty, substituted soon after his side’s second goal with a hamstring injury.
The Wanderers needed a quick response after the break – and it took just 33 seconds for the away side to halve the deficit. Oscar Priestman, who came on for Marcelo in the first half, showed determination to step out of midfield and win the ball high up the park, and Milanovic pounced on the loose ball, taking one touch off his chest before firing a clean strike into the bottom-left corner.
Mileusnic failed to restore Brisbane’s two-goal lead after catching Thomas well off his line attempting to cut out a ball down the right wing. Mileusnic rounded the keeper, then feinted to shoot to cut back around Thomas before firing toward goal.
Three Wanderers got back on the line and Clisby was perfectly placed to repel the close-range shot off his back and away.
Then came a penalty claim for the Roar. Henry Hore led the calls after his shot hit the hand of Jorrit Hendrix in the box; Hendrix had his arms dangling by his side, and the shot looked off target. Neither the on-field referee or VAR deemed the incident a penalty offence.
It was the same situation down the other end soon after, when Antonsson had a penalty claim waved away after his close-range effort was blocked by Roar defender Scott Neville. The ball deflected off the arm of Neville but, for the second time in quick succession, the officiating team waved play-on.
The Wanderers remained within striking distance until late in the game – and when Marcus Younis played a teasing cross into Brisbane’s defensive box, Antonsson rose to glance home the leveller.
Brisbane thought they’d snatched all three points back from the Wanderers when substitute Ryan Brownlie swept home a Tom Aldred header from close range – but the home side’s celebrations were cut short as an offside flag wiped the goal from the scoresheet.
Shae Cahill, who came off the bench for his Isuzu UTE A-League debut, also had a late opportunity to score for the Roar but had his big debut moment quelled by a superb Thomas save.
The talking point
Western Sydney Wanderers head coach Marko Rudan has confirmed his captain Marcelo suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the first half of the 2-2 draw with the Roar.
Marcelo went down just beyond the half-hour mark and, after receiving treatment on the pitch, hobbled off under support from a Wanderers trainer.
Without a recognised centre-back on his bench, Rudan turned to experienced midfielder Jorrit Hendrix to plug the hole at centre-back.
Rudan says, without knowing the extent of the injury, he’s comfortable playing Hendrix in the defensive role considering his prior experience slotting in at the back.
“It’s his Achilles,” Rudan confirmed to Paramount+. “It’s solid, which is good. He was able to walk on it. Nothing’s broken from what we understand, but for the big man to come off, it must’ve been quite serious.
“We hope that it’s a speedy recovery (but) until we actually go through the due process we don’t know just how bad it is.”
“Jorrit, having spoken to him, (he’s) played there at the top level,” Rudan added.
“We’ve got a plan B. I didn’t come with a defender tonight because we know that Jorrit can play there. I want to go after every game, that’s why we fill the bench with a lot of attacking players.”
It’s the second injury suffered by a key Wanderers player in as many games after Brandon Borrello suffered a foot fracture during last weekend’s Sydney Derby.
Paramount+ analyst Grace Gill pondered how Rudan would cope with the double blow moving forward in the post-match show.
“They’re the two players Marko Rudan would build his team around, the spine of your team,” Gill said.
“To have them out – we saw the reshuffle and what that meant, Hendrix dropping back in – we looked at the bench and thought: ‘Who from the bench is a defensive player that can come in for Marcelo?’ And we didn’t have an obvious answer to that question.
“It’s going to be an important week for Rudan to go back to the drawing board and have a look at what other options he has now.”
What a moment it would have been for Roar debutant Shae Cahill.
The 18-year-old made his Isuzu UTE A-League debut on Friday night, coming off the bench late on against the Wanderers to cap off a special day for the Cahill family, following his father Tim’s induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
In the aftermath of the Wanderers’ late equaliser, the teenager won a free-kick for his side in a dangerous area. He then put himself in the mix to meet Jay O’Shea’s swinging delivery – and after a deflection in the six-yard box, a chance presented for Cahill to win the game for his side on his league debut.
His first-time attempt was a good one, struck sweetly toward the bottom-right corner. Only a sublime diving save from Thomas kept his name off the scoresheet.
Post-game, Cahill’s Roar teammate Mileusnic praised the off-season signing for both winning the free-kick and going ever so close to winning all three points in what was a promising sign of things to come.
“Shae, he’s a great kid,” Mileusnic told Paramount+.
“He’s still young, and he got his first piece of the game tonight. He came on and did all the right things, he won us a free kick and almost got us a (goal).
“He’s doing well, he’s working hard every day. He’s going to be a very exciting player.”
What it means
Brisbane depart Suncorp Stadium lamenting an opportunity wasted to surge to the summit of the Isuzu UTE A-League table – but the draw continues the Queensland outfit’s remarkable resurgence under new head coach Ross Aloisi. Brisbane rose from fourth to third on the table with a point – but can be overtaken by Adelaide United, Melbourne Victory and Macarthur FC in the remaining games of Round 6.
For the Wanderers, meanwhile, fighting back from 2-0 down to earn a point extends their unbeaten run to six games to start the season. Head coach Rudan told Paramount+ post-game that the second-half performance would be a reference point for the season moving forward, considering the resilience shown by the visitors to claw back a point when, after 15 minutes, a positive result seemed out of reach.