Wanderers steal first place from Mariners
Eleven months after their birth the Western Sydney Wanderers have ascended to the top of the A-League ladder, defeating previous ladder-leaders the Central Coast Mariners 1-0 in a pulsating encounter at Bluetongue Stadium.
A missed penalty from the Mariners goalkeeper Mathew Ryan in the 52nd minute proved costly as super-sub Labinot Haliti gave the Wanderers a record-equalling eighth consecutive win courtesy of his 81st-minute goal.
Nine minutes after coming on, 27-year-old Haliti slipped past the home defence and slotted home the winner following a clever ball from Mark Bridge.
Wanderers striker Dino Kresinger had the visiting fans worried after a push in the back on Mariners defender Patrick Zwaanswijk in the box saw a penalty awarded, before Ryan (his side's third penalty taker in their last three games) drove the attempt straight at Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic.
The home side went in with the same starting line-up from their 6-2 triumph last weekend against Melbourne Victory, which meant captain John Hutchinson and Zwaanswijk returned, with youngsters Berni Ibini and Mitchell Duke starting after coming off the bench against Suwon Bluewings during the week.
Mateo Poljak and Kresinger replaced Joey Gibbs and last week's goal-scorer Aaron Mooy, with the latter benched for the Wanderers.
Graham Arnold's team had chances from long range and also set-pieces during the first half, with Daniel McBreen and Zwaanswijk among those getting headers away, but none which really troubled Wanderers shot-stopper Covic.
Tony Popovic's men were restricted to long-range attempts and set pieces, but failed to get meaningful shots on target until the 28th minute, when Wanderers defender Adam D'Apuzzo had a double chance before blazing a shot from eight metres over the crossbar.
Three minutes later a desperate lunge from Wanderers fullback Nikolai Topor-Stanley stopped a goal-bound shot from McBreen.
Wanderers front-man Kresinger missed an early chance in the second half to break the deadlock when, in the 47th minute, he miss-timed a jump and failed to connect with a Mark Bridge cross which came courtesy of some good build-up play from Youssouf Hersi.
Four minutes later came Ryan's penalty attempt at which point the game opened up, with chances in quick succession to marquee midfielder Shinji Ono for the Wanderers and then the Mariners' Michael McGlinchey.
The injection of Mooy from the bench gave the Wanderers a 63rd-minute chance after Ryan stopped the dynamic midfielder's cross from causing any trouble.
A quick release from that play saw Mariners striker Ibini force Covic into a save from close range.
Each goalkeeper was kept busy despite the Mariners dominating possession in the second half.
Both teams had penalty shouts turned down in the final 16 minutes by referee Alan Milliner, before a McBreen shot rattled the underside of the crossbar with 13 minutes to go until Haliti's late winner.
Bet365 Man of the Match: Ante Covic
The Wanderers goalkeeper was heroic, making several saves and stopping a penalty. Best in the league? He might just be.
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Haliti 81)
Central Coast Mariners 0
Crowd: 18,721 @ Bluetongue Stadium