Heroic Moments: Wanderers veteran overshadows Popovic’s return to Western Sydney
When Tony Popovic was appointed as the inaugural coach of Western Sydney Wanderers back in 2012, one of the first players he signed was Tarek Elrich.
And it was his former protégé and Hyundai A-League veteran that came back to haunt him on Sunday.
Elrich struck in the last minute of injury time to rescue a 1-1 draw against Perth Glory in the dying seconds of Round 20, denying Popovic a win on his Western Sydney comeback.
Popovic – who was in charge of the Wanderers for five seasons and guided the club to the AFC Champions League title in 2014 – was the main talking point heading into the eagerly anticipated clash.
However, Elrich stole all the headlines as his last-gasp strike halted the Glory juggernaut and ensured the Wanderers concluded their temporary residence at Spotless Stadium on a positive note.
“I’m just glad to get the result. It feels like a win,” Elrich admitted to Fox Sports post-match.
“The majority of the games this season we were in Perth’s position but slipped up [late].
“But to come back against a quality team and get a point, it’s better than nothing and it shows we have slightly turned things around.”
Elrich’s moment of euphoria was a fitting reward for his stoicism in 2018/19.
The 32-year-old is the only Wanderers player to have started every single Hyundai A-League match this campaign – all this after playing just 121 minutes for Adelaide United in 2017/18 after recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament rupture.
He has been frequently shifted across the rearguard by Markus Babbel, who told the defender he simply could not afford to rest him as injuries and fatigue set in over the busy summer schedule.
In doing so, Elrich has helped marshal a defence which has bordered on makeshift almost every weekend, one that has at times contained up to three teenagers.
With Babbel blooding a stack of youngsters from the club’s impressive youth team, the Parramatta Eagles junior’s experience and maturity has been worth its weight in gold.
And it hasn’t just been his defensive work that has caught the eye, with Elrich’s late strike the second time this month he has found the net.
It’s pretty impressive stuff considering his last goal before this hot-streak came almost two years ago.
But ever the team man, Elrich preferred to focus on what the goal and result means for the improving Wanderers.
“It’s great to get that feeling of getting an equaliser. It’s happened to us against Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne City, you can count a number of games that it’s happened to us,” he said.
“We’ll keep fighting…we’ve really been focusing on it the last month and it’s been showing.”
REPORT: Elrich's injury-time stunner as Wanderers hold Glory
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King Bridge returns
Between Popovic’s comeback and Elrich’s heroics, Sunday’s stalemate at Spotless really was a throwback to the Wanderers’ first steps in the competition.
And on an evening charged with high emotion, the return of club legend Mark Bridge only deepened the nostalgia.
Bridge, 33, has not seen a minute of action this season due to a calf injury but made his first appearance for the Red and Black since March 24, 2018 after replacing Oriol Riera in the 77th minute to a standing ovation.
After announcing his retirement late last week, the Wanderers will hope the reappearance of a club legend can continue the club’s positive momentum.
Brisbane's imports turn on the style
It's hard to know whether Brisbane Roar fans will be enthralled or frustrated with their 5-3 victory over Central Coast Mariners on Friday evening.
In it, the Queenslanders mustered two goal of the season contenders in the space of five minutes to all but consign the Mariners to the wooden spoon.
Eric Bautheac opened proceedings with a bicycle kick before Alex Lopez thundered in a volley to tee up a resounding victory for Darren Davies' side.
It was a glimpse of what could have been for Roar fans, who have watched the high-profile pair struggle to display their class consistently amid a poor Brisbane season.
However, should the Frenchman and Spaniard continue to finish the season in this vein, they would both offer strong candidacy to lead the club's re-build in 2019/20.
Three in a row for returning hero
He may not have swung the Melbourne Derby in his team's favour, but Jamie Maclaren is already making a difference for Melbourne City.
The Caltex Socceroos' striker scored his third consecutive goal for Warren Joyce's side in Saturday night's 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory, becoming the first player in City's history to achieve that feat.
Maclaren was felled by Georg Niedermeier early in the second half, a challenge which resulted in a red card for the German, and promptly dispatched the resulting penalty kick.
Although City's attack still requires some tinkering in order to stake a real shot at silverware, Maclaren's presence in the front line offers the likelihood of goals despite the inefficiencies that may exist.
A colossal effort from Topor-Stanley
Newcastle's hectic schedule has pushed the Jets to the brink of their physical capacity.
But it is a run in which Nikolai Topor-Stanley has defied such limits.
The 33-year-old completed his fourth 90-minute performance in 12 days in Sunday's 0-0 stalemate with Adelaide United.
Unsurprisingly, it was a challenge the veteran defender relished, and Topor-Stanley was a key figure in helping the Jets keep Adelaide at bay in a result which keeps them in the finals hunt.
Let's just hope he's not too sore for Newcastle's trip to Melbourne Victory next Saturday.