WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS 1 MELBOURNE HEART 0
ABOUT the only blemish for the Wanderers so far in their inaugural season has been their mediocre record at home.
They went a long way to rectifying that peculiarity at a heaving Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night, overcoming Melbourne Heart despite spending all but the first 12 minutes of the match with just 10 men.
In a pulsating clash in front of a raucous 14,624-strong crowd, the Wanderers seemed doomed after the dismissal of Jerome Polenz. But a game-changing save by Ante Covic from the resulting penalty sparked a home-team revolt that lasted the rest of the match.
Appearing to play in a higher gear, the Wanderers went for blood, even after they had taken the lead through a penalty of their own, when David Vrankovic - already on a yellow from an early infringement - brought down Youssouf Hersi in the 72nd minute. Shinji Ono went to the same side Tadic had, but Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne went the other way.
It was cruel for Redmayne, who been superb amid the onslaught. But the win was no less than the Wanderers deserved and it springs them well and truly into the competition's elite.
By the end of a breathless first half, two players had been booked, one sent off, a penalty had been saved and both goalkeepers had been worked over. Yet the score remained 0-0.
Home crowd favourite, striker Dino Kresinger had a nasty start to the game, booked in the fourth minute for simulation as he tried to wrench a penalty from referee Strebre Delovski. The referee had no sympathy for Heart midfielder David Vrankovic either, giving him a yellow after he brought down Wanderers star Shinji Ono on 10 minutes. It was only a prelude to what lay just two minutes ahead.
With David Williams bearing down on goal, Polenz stuck his foot out in desperation and brought down the Heart attacker, yielding a red card and a penalty to the visitors.
With noise engulfing the ground, Josip Tadic struck his firm strike to Ante Covic's left and the goalkeeper smacked it away with his palms.
The send off prompted coach Tony Popovic to replace midfielder Aaron Mooy with Iacopo La Rocca, who went to right fullback. Yet before the switch, Redmayne was forced into two good saves from Mark Bridge, the first from a stinging shot from distance, the second a rolling strike across goal and parried away by the keeper.
After the switch, too, the Wanderers maintained the rage. They hammered the right wing, using the electric Youssouf Hersi time and again with piercing effectiveness, not least the Dutchman's long-range strike midway through the half that stung Redmayne's hands.
It wasn't all one-way traffic. Nicholas Kalmar asked Covic a question from range, too. But the momentum stayed with the home side, who attacked until the dying moments of the half, stringing together a series of corners, yet unable to find the net.
It was a somewhat more tame start to the second half on the field, as the Heart finally started to hold possession and use their one-man advantage. Their best chance came on 59 minutes when Williams rattled the side netting.
But again the Wanderers rose. Hersi and Kresinger each had golden opportunities, but Redmayne saved both one on ones brilliantly and courageously.
Looking to inject some fresh legs in attack, Heart coach John Aloisi replaced Kalmar with Eli Babalj, who was back from a stint in Serbia. But, before Babalj had time to sweat, the Wanderers had their penalty, and Ono made no mistake.