Golden Boot contender emerging in Wanderland as Western Sydney notch impressive win over Mariners

WATCH: All the highlights from Western Sydney Wanderers' 3-0 win over Central Coast Mariners on Friday night

Western Sydney Wanderers striker Sophie Harding’s hot streak continued as the Red & Black notched an impressive 3-0 win over Central Coast Mariners on Friday night.

A brace to the Wanderers striker set the tone at Wanderers Football Park, with an unfortunate own goal to Mariners captain Taren King in between Harding’s two strikes putting the hosts out of sight as Robbie Hooker’s side won their second Liberty A-League game in succession.

Wanderers goalkeeper Sham Khamis was superb in between the sticks, denying Mariners striker Rola Badawiya time and again to inspire her team to victory. The 3-0 defeat was Central Coast’s second loss in a row, and a result that sent the Wanderers jumping above the Mariners into sixth spot on the Liberty A-League table.

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Harding, meanwhile, has shot up the Golden Boot standings off the back of a purple patch of form; two goals against the Mariners made it five in three games for the rapid Wanderers striker, who now sits just one goal behind Melbourne City’s Holly McNamara on the Liberty A-League goalscoring leaderboard in 2023-24.

An entertaining first half burst into life in the eighth minute when Badawiya flashed a long-range strike just past the post. Bethany Gordon committed to a block as the American striker feinted to strike on her right foot, instead shifting the ball onto her left in space outside of the box.

Her strike was driven low to the bottom-right corner, and Khamis was beaten – but the ball fizzed just wide of the mark.

The visitors continued to push for an opener with Badawiya once again in the thick of the action with a driving run across the penalty area, turning Wanderers captain inside out before firing a shot on target which Khamis did well to parry out of danger.

Olivia Price was on free-kick duties for Western Sydney when the opportunity to strike from a dangerous area presented just before the half-hour mark, but her attempt was directed centrally for Mariners keeper Casey Dumont to make a routine save.

Badawiya posed a constant threat to the Wanderers throughout the first half, and as the match clock ticked toward 40 minutes she attempted to drill another left-footed attempt past Khamis – and this time, the Wanderers keeper got down low to make a superb save from close range.

Khamis’ rock-solid start provided the platform for the hosts to take a 1-0 lead late in the first half. Cushla Rue was the architect of the opener, whipping a dangerous ball off the right wing onto the head of the in-form Harding to score her fourth goal in three games from close range.

The second half began much like the first with Badawiya testing Khamis once again but to no avail, before the Wanderers doubled their advantage in the 54th minute.

Western Sydney’s second came via an unfortunate deflection off Mariners captain King; Dumont failed to deal with a high, looping delivery into the penalty area, with the ball dropping at the back post, off the body of King and over the line.

In an attempt to halve the deficit, Bianca Galic whipped a free-kick on target from the edge of the penalty area that was destined for the back of the net until Khamis produced yet another key contribution, tipping the ball around the post and out for a corner.

Then, the Wanderers went out of sight. It was Harding once again putting the finishing touch on a well-worked Wanderers move, firing a deflected attempt off her left foot over the head of Dumont and into the back of the net to secure her brace, and all three points for the home side.

The talking point

After a tough start to the new season, something is building in Wanderland.

Back-to-back wins in the Liberty A-League for the first time since January have sent Robbie Hooker’s side soaring up the table into sixth spot; just one defeat in four is an impressive form line built off the back of striker Sophie Harding finding her scoring rhythm, and the defensive line tightening the screws.

Goalkeeper Sham Khamis was sublime against the Mariners on Friday night, with a defensive line bolstered by the presence of midfielder Amy Harrison in a different role from what we’re used to seeing from the fringe Matilda.

The Wanderers have scored five goals and conceded zero across the past two rounds in the Liberty A-League as they look to push to further entrench themselves into the finals positions in the weeks to come.

The star

With five goals in three games, Sophie Harding is catching fire at the Wanderers.

The Wanderers striker had played 43 games in the Liberty A-League before the 2023-24 Liberty A-League season, finding the net on just four occasions in three seasons split across Newcastle Jets and Western Sydney.

After six games in the new campaign, Harding has five goals to her name – all scored in her last three appearances.

Harding now sits just one goal behind Melbourne City’s Holly McNamara on the Liberty A-League Golden Boot leaderboard; the City star will not contend for top-scoring honours after her season-ending knee injury. Harding is level on five goals with Canberra United midfielder Vesna Milivojevic, and one goal ahead of Melbourne Victory’s Rachel Lowe.