History against the Wanderers

Despite Western Sydney's success, we've seen new clubs soar before - and they've always fallen at the final stage. So will Western Sydney stumble on the big stage?

After 21 rounds, Western Sydney Wanderers sit just one point away from top spot on the Hyundai A-League ladder.

A new club doing so well in their first season has been a sensational story. But is it the unprecedented success some have already hailed it?

We saw the same thing just three years ago, as debutant club Gold Coast United led the A-League ladder after Round 23 in their first season 2009/10.

With experienced stars Jason Culina and Shane Smeltz at the helm, and youngsters Tahj Minniecon and Adama Traore making their names, Gold Coast finished the 2009/10 regular season in third place on the A-League ladder.

There are also a few examples from the NSL days of upstart clubs surprising all in their first (or return) year in the national competition.

Wollongong City Wolves, promoted from the 1987 New South Wales state league, stunned all in their return to the national stage to take out first position on the 1988 NSL ladder.

It was a remarkable year for the Illawarra team, with guest players Trevor Francis and Paul Mariner (from England) and Alan Brazil (Scotland) - who had all played in the 1982 World Cup - assisting the Wolves to the 1988 NSL Premiership on the last day of the regular season.

In 1997/98, brand new club Carlton swept almost all aside in their first NSL season. With teenagers Simon Colosimo, Marco Bresciano and Vince Grella helping tear apart the opposition, the Navy Blues were actually undefeated in their first seven matches of existence in 1997.

Carlton ended the 1997/98 regular season with a 5-0 rout over new-found rivals South Melbourne to finish on the ladder just one win behind South.

But perhaps the most remarkable story of a new team stealing the thunder in the NSL was a club that is still alive and kicking.

If you think Western Sydney's recent entry to the national stage with only a few months preparation was a sudden one then consider the birth of Adelaide United almost 10 years ago.

The Reds emerged out of nowhere just three weeks before the start of the 2003/04 NSL season.

Adelaide United's entry to the NSL followed the sudden withdrawal of foundation national league club Adelaide City on August 31, 2003. Brand new entity United was announced as joining the league on Friday September 12. The season commenced the following Friday, September 19.

Fortunately the 2003/04 league fixtures were rearranged so that Adelaide United, effectively taking Adelaide City's spot in the draw, could defer their first few scheduled games until later in the season.

On October 17 - just five weeks after the club's formation - Adelaide United kicked-off their first NSL game with a spectacular 1-0 win over Brisbane Strikers at an overflowing Hindmarsh Stadium.

It was certainly far cry from Adelaide City's last regular season match at Hindmarsh, watched by just 2200 people earlier that year.

Despite having to squeeze in several mid-week catch-up games after their delayed start, Adelaide United were mid-table by the halfway point of the 2003/04 NSL season, and ended the regular season in third place on the ladder.

And so just like Wollongong finishing at the top of the ladder in their return season in 1988, and new entities Carlton (1997/98), Adelaide United (2003/04) and Gold Coast United (2009/10) each finishing in the ladder's top three in their first seasons, we now see the Western Sydney Wanderers doing quite well so far in 2012/13.

However, while it's all well and good to finish high on the ladder, it's results in the finals that counts for the Championship.

So what happened to these other successful newbies come finals time, when they were pitted against more experienced and established opposition?

Not much really.

Wollongong's home-and-away season success in 1988 came to a sudden halt in the finals series, with successive losses to Sydney Croatia and Marconi denying the Wolves an appearance in the season decider that year.

Carlton's last minor round thrashing of South Melbourne in 1997/98 secured second place on the ladder. But it gave false hope leading into the finals campaign, with successive losses to South Melbourne in the two-legged major semi-final, and defeat by the same club in the 1998 Grand Ginal.

Although Adelaide United continued their regular season winning ways in the early stages of the 2003/04 NSL finals, with dramatic wins over Brisbane Strikers and South Melbourne, elimination with a 5-0 thrashing by Perth Glory in the preliminary final took the gloss off an otherwise respectable first season for the Reds.

And in 2009/10, the A-League's new boys Gold Coast United went down in their first play-off match, succumbing to Newcastle in the elimination final.

It seems first season sensations always fail at the final hurdle.

So while we watch in wonder as the Wanderers win a lengthy streak of matches in early 2013 to guarantee a finals placing in their first A-League season, the team from Sydney's west will have to defy history to avoid bombing out in the play-offs.

Can Tony Popovic, Michael Beauchamp, Shinji Ono and co prove history wrong?

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