Wanderers back to drawing board as City flex muscles
A DANIEL Lopar goalkeeping blunder, a dazzling Craig Noone double and a brilliant bit of Jamie Maclaren improvisation has sent Western Sydney packing from the FFA Cup quarter-finals and left Markus Babbel with some promise but also plenty to ponder three weeks out from a make-or-break A-League campaign.
A third straight semi eluded the undermanned Wanderers, who displayed fleeting moments of optimism but were ultimately outplayed 3-0 by a full-strength Melbourne City looking very much rejuvenated under new French coach Erick Mombaerts.
And while a new-look City have set up a final-four date with Brisbane Strikers, Babbel will turn his attention to readying the key Wanderers notable in their absence from AAMI Park in Mitchell Duke, Matt Jurman, Pirmin Schwegler and Patrick Ziegler.
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As the venue's infamous seagulls hunted in packs to pilfer tasty morsels from unsuspecting fans, City circled in similar fashion seeking to isolate the Wanderers' back three, rising talent Ramy Najjarine spurning a handful of chances.
The tactic very nearly extracted an early lead when Maclaren, aided by some static defending, almost put away a volley only for Lopar to pull off a spontaneous save.
Unfortunately for the red-and-black custodian, a less-astute move some 20 minutes later gifted the hosts their opener anyway.
Lopar raced out to the goal line to claim an errant backpass but spilt his earnings for Noone to deposit neatly into an empty net - the hard-nosed Englishman's third goal from the last three Cup rounds.
Gloves flailing, Lopar argued in vain that his Vedran Janjetovic-esque misjudgment shouldn't count because the ball had slipped out of play for a corner.
Play continued nonetheless and in first-half injury time City doubled the lead courtesy of a wonderfully instinctive back-to-goal finish from Maclaren that signalled the Socceroos striker has plenty of goals in him this season.
By then Kwame Yeboah had skied the Wanderers' best opportunity yet, and Babbel will be craving the mooted arrival of a new European striker to reignite his misfiring attack.
Yeboah made way for Tate Russell at the break but, while Mohamed Adam blazed a shot high and Bruce Kamau was denied by Dean Bouzanis, the damage was already done.
It took only a piercing through ball from Josh Brillante and a second, deft finish from a cramping Noone to step past Russell and bend the ball inside the back post.