Western Sydney Wanderers’ perfect start to 2018 came to an end after letting a narrow lead slip in the dying moments to settle for a 1-1 draw against Adelaide United on Wednesday night.
After taking the lead early in the second half a late slump from the Wanderers denied them a third successive win after Adelaide teenager Apostolos Stamatelopoulos scored an 86th minute equaliser to grab a deserved point for the Reds. The Wanderers continued their recent resurgence after a poor finish to 2017 but were left bemoaning a number of missed opportunities in front of goal and their inability to hold on to a lead against an Adelaide team without several senior players.
The Wanderers appeared to lose momentum after coach Josep Gombau made three early substitutions, some puzzling, replacing three midfielders with two strikers and a defender. Chris Herd was replaced by Lachlan Scott, Roly Bonevacia by Brendon Santalab and Steven Lustica for defender Brendan Hamill. It left the Wanderers bare in the middle of the park late in the match but Gombau defending his tactics, suggesting at least one was forced upon him through injury.
“We changed Chris because of injury. Lustica was tired and was not arriving to defend his three plus one and we put Hamill on and his characteristics are a defensive player,” Gombau said.
The Reds’ disciplined approach lead to a flurry of half chances for the likes of Papa Diawara and Ryan Kitto early in the game but they couldn’t force a meaningful save from Wanderers Vedran Janjetovic in the first half. Despite their better use of possession and more structured defence, Adelaide showed signs of vulnerability in transition with the Wanderers creating plenty of chances as a result.
A superb through ball from captain Robbie Cornthwaite from inside his own half put marquee Oriol Riera through on goal but the Spanish striker was denied by the crossbar and Steven Lustica’s follow-up was cleared off the line.
In form forward Mark Bridge should have finished one of his three chances on the counter. First, he flashed a volley narrowly wide. Then a shot from the edge of the box was denied by a well-timed save from Adelaide goalkeeper Daniel Margush, before he sent his best opportunity sailing over the bar from close range on the stroke of half-time.
The Wanderers didn’t have to wait long after the restart to take the lead. Dutch midfielder Roly Bonevacia beat the offside trap on the right flank to hone-in towards goal with two teammates free in the box. He found the feet of fullback Jack Clisby who made no mistake, slotting his first goal in 38 competitive games for the Wanderers.
Adelaide came close to equalising on the hour mark when Jordan O’Doherty’s deflected shot forced Janjetovic into action, before Ersan Gulum’s header from inside the box made for nervous viewing for the 10,771 mostly Wanderers fans. Substitute Mark Ochieng should have drawn level when his right-foot shot fizzled centimetres wide of the post in the 75th minute.
The Wanderers game plan became about hanging on for the win, but the substitutions by Gombau were followed by an erosion of their structure. It seemed only a matter of time before Adelaide would find a breakthrough, and 18-year-old Stamatelopoulos latched on to a cut back from Ryan Strain and emphatically equalised into an unguarded net.
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