Brazilian’s brilliance inspires major upset as Wanderers collapse to bottom-placed side

Western Sydney Wanderers FC v Western United FC - Highlights | Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 | Round 20

A dazzling second-half display from Daniel Penha inspired Western United to a come-from-behind 3-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers at CommBank Stadium on Friday night.

The Wanderers led 1-0 through Nicolas Milanovic but Penha’s dinked assist to Matthew Grimaldi saw United equal the ledger.

Penha put his side ahead with a clinical finish in the 77th minute before teeing up Socceroos striker Nikita Rukavytsya to complete the turnaround and confirm back-to-back wins for the visitors for the first time this season.

Friday night’s loss was Western Sydney’s second disappointing result in succession after Round 19’s 4-1 defeat to Sydney FC.

A stop-start first half featured more spot fires than genuine chances on goal.

Ben Garuccio lost a tooth, Angus Thurgate took Brandon Borrello’s boot to the face in an accidental collision and Tomoki Imai sent Milanovic tumbling over the pitchside broadcast camera after a shoulder-to-shoulder at the halfway line.

Lachlan Brook’s 13th-minute shot from outside the box fizzed just wide of the bottom-right corner in what was the best opportunity for either side in the first half.

The Wanderers had six first half shots to United’s four, with the visitors putting the only shot on target before the break.

The contest was in need of a moment of quality to spark it into life after the break – and Milanovic duly obliged with a rasping strike which rattled the post on its way past Matthew Sutton to break the deadlock.

Milanovic took the ball on the left wing, played it between the legs of United full-back Josh Risdon and dribbled around Thurgate before a one-two with Brandon Borrello on the edge of the area that gave the young Wanderers forward space to strike.

The away side almost struck back instantly and the equalising goal almost came direct from Penha’s corner delivery. The Brazilian swung the ball toward the front post and Marcelo headed the ball off the woodwork; the rebound fell to Thurgate whose strike deflected off Milanovic and out for another corner.

United ramped up the pressure and Michael Ruhs should have made it 1-1 but failed to turn a dangerous cross off the left wing on target from inside the six-yard box.

But the equaliser was soon to come. Grimaldi bagged his second Isuzu UTE A-League goal after a combination of Josh Risdon’s bravery and Penha’s magic in the build-up to the young midfielder’s tight-angled finish.

Ruhs was presented with another glorious chance and this time it was to put his side on top at CommBank Stadium, but his header off Garuccio’s cross lacked direction as Daniel Margush made a comfortable save in the centre of goal.

Penha showed no such inefficiency when presented the chance to put United on top. After assisting Grimaldi’s equaliser, Penha pounced on a loose touch from Aidan Simmons and lasered the ball into the bottom-right corner.

Rukavytsya emerged off the bench in the 78th minute and took just three minutes to find the back of the net and put United out of sight. Penha played the assist, feeding the Socceroo in for a one-on-one with Margush and a simple finish.

Aloisi’s hilarious reaction to Garuccio’s first-half mishap

It’s not often you see a player chip their tooth in-game, but when Western head coach John Aloisi saw his full-back go down holding his mouth in the first half of Friday’s win over the Wanderers, the Socceroos great’s mind instantly cast back to a similar experience of his own.

“In Spain years ago, I actually copped an elbow and my tooth crumbled in my mouth,” Aloisi said in the post-game press conference. “So a little bit like Benny’s.”

Garuccio went on to play the full game despite the chipped tooth, contributing in a big way to Western’s comeback win on the road.

With his defender sporting a new look post-game, Aloisi joked:

“I don’t want to say which AFL team he supports coming from Adelaide, but I think a few of them have got missing teeth as well!”

‘He is a maestro’: Why we’re finally seeing ‘the real Daniel Penha’ in a United shirt

CommBank Stadium was Daniel Penha’s playground on Friday night – and as the mercurial Brazilian produced a highlight reel to savour, the Paramount+ commentary team of Robbie Thomson and Andy Harper provided a fitting soundtrack.

“Penha has done it again,” said Harper as the Western star put his side 2-1 ahead. “He is a maestro.”

Late in the game, as Penha trudged off the park having assisted his second goal of the night – United’s third – to inspire his side to Victory, Thompson added to Harper’s musing.

“He is the star. The jewel in the crown of this United side.”

Penha is thriving in green and black after a challenging start to life in Victoria.

When he signed for United in the off-season, memories of his brief but brilliant stint at Newcastle Jets instantly came to the fore but the creative midfielder has taken some time to get back to full flight after a challenging period both on and off the pitch.

Penha joined Korean club Daegu FC from the Jets for the 2022-23 K League 1 campaign, but an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury cut his time in Korea short at just 11 appearances for his new club.

“He’s been really good for us,” said Western head coach John Aloisi post-game. “We knew it would take him time because he was out for so long with his ACL injury. We thought the back half of the season he’d show the real Daniel Penha, and he’s really standing up.

“He was phenomenal again tonight, and he has been for a number of games for us. Let’s hope we can keep him! That’s what we’ll try and do, because he’s been great.”

“He’s hard to stop in full flight,” Aloisi added in the post-game press conference.

“That final ball he’s got – he’s only set up a few goals this year because we’ve missed so many or else he’d be in double figures with assists.”

Returning to fitness at Western this season coincided with seven months spent apart from wife Larissa who was undergoing cancer treatment in Brazil.

Larissa arrived in Melbourne last week and, following Penha’s magnificent outing against the Wanderers, it appears as if everything is coming together for the United star in the backend of the 2023-24 campaign.

“How relaxed and happy does he look now?” Said Paramount+ analyst Daniel McBreen in the post-game show.

“I know he’s just come off the back of a win, but now his wife is here, seven months without her, she’s been fighting illness. He just looks like a man enjoying life now.”