A game in Suburban Blacktown with more roller-coasters than Wonderland entertained the masses on a cold night in Western Sydney. The Western Sydney Wanderers eventually prevailing over hosts Blacktown City in a penalty shoot-out to progress to the Semi-Finals of the FFA Cup.
For those of you who haven’t been to a suburban ground, this match day experience summed it all up. It had almost every cliche and it was brilliant. Walking passed a school to a seemingly regular street lined with houses and suddenly arriving at a stadium which just formed part of the street. It is everything you’d imagine. The smoke and steam bellowing from the over-heated BBQ as we entered among kids just running around like at a park and… well just being kids. It was a great feeling, the ambiance and (dare I say it…) “so much serenity”.
Now turning to the actual football, Blacktown lined up pretty much as expected but there were a few surprises in the Wanderers’ lineup. With Captain Robbie Cornthwaite, Santalab and two Spanish imports in Cejudo and Llorente not featuring. Another surprise was starting both Jumpei and Sotirio as our wingers… and oh boy will I be discussing that one today!
The game started as well as you could hope for the Wanderers. Jumpei was cut down just inside the box by a clumsy tackle, earning a penalty from an otherwise tame attack in the opening minutes of the match. Riera stepped up and slotted home from the spot to continue his streak of scoring in all FFA Cup games and redeeming himself for his missed penalty in the win over Bentleigh Greens.
The goal had a strange effect on the game. One down, Blacktown seemingly went into their shell and almost looked like laying down and accepting their fate. The Wanderers, either through complacency or pity, didn’t seem too eager to capitalise on their obvious dominance. It was one of the most one-sided halves of football, which I genuinely did not expect, but the Wanderers failed to convert that into points, failing to score any open-play goals. To Blacktown’s credit they had some brilliant last ditch defending and some great finger-tip saves from the keeper.
However, Blacktown were also helped by our hapless wingers. Sotirio had a number of shots on target (good for him) but that target may have been Tristan Prendergast’s gloves and unfortunately not worth any points. Jumpei was a different story. Where to begin? Now, to be fair maybe he just didn’t settle on the synthetic pitch. That’s possible. But I’m pretty sure every other player on the pitch was also on the same pitch and none of them seemed to fall over more than bloke on a Friday night bender after his 12th schooner so he decides to climb out of his wheelchair and attempt to walk upstairs, like he did. Maybe I’m being too harsh but every time the ball went to Jumpei last night I found myself just waiting for a turn-over or wasted ball and I didn’t have to wait long.
As the players came out for the second half I was again reminded that we are definitely at a small suburban ground. A young kid (i’m talking still with dummy in mouth and a bomber jacket that could double as a sleeping bag) ran onto the pitch from nowhere and refused to leave. One of the Blacktown players tried to gently usher the kid off to the side but he/she/it wasn’t having it. It took another player to run across and scoop the kid up. To my surprise, it wasn’t clear that the child was returned to a family member of the player and that’s why they were on the pitch.. no simply to a seemingly random member of the public. You won’t get that at the new purpose build Western Sydney Stadium!
That, combined with the moment that (I shit you not) the ball was kicked over a fence and into the balcony of the function centre. I was half expecting someone to shout “6 and Out” and half expecting Joey Gibbs to start climbing up to get it before any neighbours realise what was going on. Sadly, neither happened because there was at least one spare ball and I was reminded that this is in fact a competitive fixture in a national competition.
You wouldn’t know it though by the way the Wanderers played the second half. Slow, sluggish and completely unable to put the game to bed. Another failed attack, with Jumpei cursing the air and seemingly angry that a ball was put through and he had to eventually react and make some sort of attempt to get there before next week (he didn’t), which led to a counter from Blacktown. James Andrew sprinted down the abandoned wing on the counter after a brilliant ball over the top and had the determination and skill to slot it home passed Vedran for the equaliser.
After that, pure determination got Blacktown to full-time. They were making every challenge and working hard for every ball. So many shots by the Wanderers were cleared off the line or blocked. Players were throwing themselves at the ball with as much enthusiasm and force as my wife would to Kit Harrington. They held on and even forced a few saves from the Wanderers on the way.
In extra-time it was much the same. As the crowd began to freeze over, like that movie where the girl doesn’t want to share her door so just let’s the guy she supposedly loves just freeze to death (I think it’s called the freezening), anyway where was I..? oh Yes! James Andrew bagged his second goal after somehow finding himself unmarked at the far post, putting Blacktown in the lead and seemingly through to the semi-finals. At this point we are all left wondering (hopefully including Popovic) why we are starting Josh Sotirio when James Andrew is literally right in our backyard.
It wasn’t until the second half of extra-time that Josh Risdon put in an absolute peach of a cross right to Riera in the box who headed home and did his now trademark cow tongue celebration and the crowd celebrated more like we’d won the toilet seat than we had just drawn level with an NPL side.
The game went to penalties and the Wanderers were clinical. After Blacktown won the toss and went first, only to sky the first shot and have the 2nd saved by Vedran, all the Wanderers had to do was keep slotting their attempts in. And that’s what they did. Bridge, Scott, Lustica and finally Riera with the winner.
It was a strange game on a great night and hey we even got to give Kearyn Baccus a Sydney is Red and Black scarf, so all’s well that ends well.
Wanderers now progress to the semi-finals of the FFA Cup for the first time and will host Adelaide United, with South Melbourne to host Sydney FC – details to be confirmed.
Blacktown City 2 – 2 WSW (Wanderers 4-2 in penalties)
Our key players: Bonevacia, Risdon, Baccus and Bridge
Poor Performers: Sotirio and Jumpei