Western Sydney Wanderers claimed their first win of the Liberty A-League season after upstaging last season’s Grand Finalists Western United 2-0.
Sophie Harding was the hero for the Wanderers, chasing down star Western goalkeeper Hillary Beall to break the deadlock with eight minutes remaining at City Vista Recreation Reserve on Saturday.
Cushla Grace Rue sealed the victory for the Wanderers in the third minute of stoppage time.
The result snapped Western Sydney’s 20-game winless drought away from home in the Liberty A-League, while Western United suffered their third defeat of the season after six rounds.
LIBERTY A-LEAGUE R6 PREVIEW: Who replaces Vine v McNamara in blockbuster battle?
A STORY ‘WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT’: told by someone who has lived it & bounced back THREE times
Western United controlled proceedings early on at City Vista, where Western Sydney’s 15-year-old sensation Talia Younis made her starting debut just weeks after breaking Sam Kerr’s record as the youngest ever A-Leagues player.
There were a couple of opportunities for Western’s reigning Golden Boot winner Hannah Keane, while the visiting Wanderers had a couple of chances themselves.
The biggest talking point of the first half, however, was an injury to Kahli Johnson that forced the Western star and Young Matilda from the field in the 33rd minute.
Western Sydney grew into the game in the second half and Harding engineered a decent move early on – the Wanderers forward made a good run into the box and Beall had to produce a fine diving save to deal with the danger.
Western United struggled to create anything clear cut, with Mark Torcaso turning to Avaani Prakash at the expense of Keane late in the contest.
But just as the match was petering out for a draw, Western Sydney’s Harding pounced on a Beall error in the 82nd minute.
Beall – the 2022-23 Goalkeeper of the Year – was too slow to deal with a backpass and Harding chased down the star goalkeeper to put the ball into the back of the net.
As Western United pushed numbers forward in search of an equaliser, space opened up and Western Sydney’s Rue took advantage to score in the 93rd minute.
The Talking Point
Western United took the league by storm in their inaugural 2022-23 season. They won their opening seven matches in a stunning start to life in the Liberty A-League, but 2023-24 is shaping up as a much more difficult campaign.
Mark Torcaso’s side have already lost three games, with only two wins to their name through six rounds.
Despite Hannah Keane leading the line and Matildas star Chloe Logarzo wearing the captain’s armband in the middle of the park, Western’s midfield and attack lacked creativity against the Wanderers.
It led to the discussion on the Network 10 broadcast around possible reinforcements and the prospect of reigning Julie Dolan Medallist Alex Chidiac joining the club.
Chidiac is set to become a free agent at the start of next year after National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) outfit Racing Louisville announced her contract won’t be renewed.
The Matildas midfielder – who is currently on loan with Mexican side Tigres until the end of December – was waived by the NWSL side.
She played for Melbourne Victory last season and was crowned the league’s best player having scored six goals in 13 matches.
Her future was discussed on the broadcast, with commentator Pokuah Frimpong saying: “There are some players who are currently on the market looking for new clubs. Chidiac would be great for Western United in that midfield.”
Liberty A-League legend Teresa Polias added: “100%.
“If you have money to spend and you’re looking for a player in this league, you’re definitely looking at the likes of Alex Chidiac. We know what she can do for teams.
“She was fantastic in this league for such a short period of time last season. We know she loves living in Melbourne so it could be the three Melbourne clubs fighting it out for her this season.”
Sophie Harding was a threat throughout in a game that lacked any real clear-cut chances.
The 24-year-old kept Western United’s defenders on their toes and her determination led to the breakthrough goal in the 82nd minute.
After her brace against Melbourne City in Round 5, Harding has now scored three goals in six games. It is already her best ever return in the Liberty A-League, surpassing the two-goal seasons she had in 2022-23 and 2021-22.
What it means
Western United have only won one of their past four matches (L2, D1), having conquered Brisbane Roar in Round 5.
It is back to the drawing board for the 2022-23 runners-up, who visit Adelaide United following the international break on December 9.
As for the Wanderers, it is a confidence-boosting victory for a team winless before Saturday.
They are off the foot of the table with four points and can look ahead to the December 8 fixture against Central Coast Mariners with confidence.