Central Coast Mariners 1 – 2 Western Sydney Wanderers
At 37 years old, after 18 months out of the sport, Luis Garcia should have been too old to be doing things like this.
Embarrassment, if not injury, was being risked against a reputation that needs no embellishment. But within ten minutes of his career re-commencing, he’d turned this game on its head, and the only embarrassment was reserved for those who doubted him – or tried to lay a tackle.
Garcia entered the fray right on the hour mark, replacing Francesco Stella, giving him 30 minutes to weave the magic that wowed fans at clubs such as Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. He clearly hasn’t lost it.
“From the first second I got onto the pitch, I enjoyed it. The crowd was fantastic today and hopefully for the rest of the season we can give the supporters a lot of joy,” he said. “The Wanderers had a fantastic first half but in the second half [we improved]. If we play like this for the rest of the season, I’m sure the results will be there.
“The guys gave everything on the pitch and we will learn from our mistakes – one in the first half and another in the second half. They are young and they will have to learn fast.”
Mariners coach Tony Walmsley was thrilled with the impact of his new marquee.
“He showed his quality and the weight on the pass that set up the goal was top draw,” he said. “He’s not going be a 90 minute player but if he can have that kind of impact he had for the rest of the season, he’ll be an asset.”
Garcia’s first pass forward set up an attacking move that nearly ended in a goal. From a corner soon after, he hooked a shot just over the goal. If nothing else, he appeared to give the Mariners real belief that could unpick the Wanderers despite being dominated until that moment.
That belief began to rise like a crescendo. Garcia received the ball deep but had the presence of mind to fire a piercing forward ball that sent Mitch Austin away down the left.
Josh Bingham couldn’t convert the cut-back but the ball spilled to Fabio Ferriera, who sent most of the 13,105 on hand into a frenzy.
Yet Nick Montgomery’s rash challenge on Wanderers’ forward Gol Gol Mebrahtu snubbed out any chance of victory. Ben Williams couldn’t reach for his red card quickly enough. It would prove a costly mistake.
With injury time approaching, the Mariners were caught dallying in defence and Wanderers substitute Kearyn Baccus was able to get his foot to a cross that goalkeeper Paul Izzo could only parry.
On hand to tap into the empty net was another substitute, Brendan Santalab, who delighted in running to celebrate with travelling members of the Red and Black Bloc.
The Wanderers would return home to Sydney not just with the three points but with top spot secured after Brisbane’s 4-1 defeat against Adelaide the night before.
They had the perfect start to the night, scoring after just 11 minutes.
Mark Bridge sensed the moment and seized possession as the Mariners’ defence was caught flat-footed. He just had to beat Izzo, which he did, slotting the ball through the keepers’ legs.
Eight minutes later, Dario Vidosic nearly made it 2-0 when he rose to meet an incoming cross, only to see his curling header crash into the upright.
Roux was having a torrid time down the right as Vidosic and the hard-running Jamieson provided ample penetration down the Wanderers’ left.
Over on their right, Romeo Castelen was typically excellent, providing pace and width and exploiting whatever space was offered to him.
Watching on from the sidelines, Garcia must have been feeling a long way from Barcelona. His side found it seemingly impossible to keep the ball, instead waiting for rare opportunities to break forward.
Occasionally, the Mariners did get into attack, but every time they did it seemed either Alberto or the superb Jonthan Aspropotamitis was there to clean up the mess.
The 19-year old has been denied opportunities this season as coach Tony Popovic stays true to Nikolai Topor-Stanley but his suspension opened the door for Aspropotamitis. It’s almost impossible to see how he could be dropped.
The Wanderers could and should have been further ahead by the half-time interval but Popovic couldn’t have been unhappy about how many chances his side was creating.
They left it late, but, as they so often do, Popovic’s men found a way to emerge on top.