Brendon Santalab of the Wanderers celebrates victory with the fans.
Brendon Santalab of the Wanderers celebrates victory with the fans. Ryan Pierse

Santalab pops up to end Sydney streak

FOOTBALL: Of all the teams in all the towns in all the world, it had to end like this.

Sydney FC's bid to become the A-League's Invincibles is over, and it just had to be Western Sydney who cut them down.

Thirty-seven months after they last tasted victory in the derby, the Wanderers threw everything they had into the grittiest of 1-0 wins, earned by Brendon Santalab's first-half goal.

Sydney were beaten for the first time in 20 games this season after a pulsating, intoxicating derby that rejuvenates the home side's hopes of reaching the finals.

If the result scarcely dents Sydney's beeline for the Premier's Plate, it meant everything to Tony Popovic's side, who had ceded possession and territory but found the one crucial moment.

Certainly Sydney had the best of the first hour, dominating possession and the pitch. They had chances, several of them, but the ruthlessness of recent weeks was missing.

If Vedran Janjetovic in the Wanderers goal only had one major save to make until the later stages - a spectacular one too, tipping away Alex Brosque's screamer from distance - that was more a reflection of Sydney's poor finishing.

Bobo's was the most glaring miss, firing over from close range when found by Filip Holosko's cutback, while Brosque's diving header from Bobo's cross was tamely straight at Janjetovic.

Western Sydney was more compact than normal, content to hit Sydney on the break.

It almost worked spectacularly in the fourth minute when Jaushua Sotirio's pace took him clear of the Sydney defence but his shot was too easily grasped by Danny Vukovic.

There was little the Sydney keeper could do in the 26th minute, though, when the home side grabbed such a precious lead.

Moments earlier Nicolas Martinez seemed certain to score, his shot from close in flying over apparently with the help of a deflection.

When Mitch Nichols returned the resultant corner into the box, Santalab took a touch, turned Alex Wilkinson with style, and drove the ball home.

Sydney's resolve has proven powerful this season, and back they came. Milos Ninkovic took a pass in the box and went down under Santalab's wild challenge but no penalty followed from referee Chris Beath.

Half-time came and went, and the visitors kept pressing - but the longer they had the lead, the longer Western Sydney began to pull Sydney's famed defensive structure out of position.

Terry Antonis let fly with a shot just a fraction too high, then Bobo's power in the box set Brosque and Bernie Ibini up for shots that sheer weight of numbers suffocated.

At the other end Martinez turned sharply and got away a sliding shot that Vukovic did extremely well to tip aside.

For the first time this season the question of Sydney equalising became if, not when.

The Wanderers looked like a team fighting for their footballing lives - several times Santalab has spoken of each game for here on being a cup final, and the work rate, the doubling up in defence and the will to win were all redolent of such an occasion.

With 10 minutes left they almost sealed the win - Martinez sent Jack Clisby away for a low cross and Sautirio's shot was deflected and then brilliantly tipped on to the post by Vukovic.

Sydney came almost as close when Brosque's brilliant pass was brought down by Bobo closing in on goal, but Janjetovic somehow blocked the shot.

In the final seconds, Brosque went down in the box but the penalty again was denied - and nor would be the Wanderers.

News Corp Australia

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