Tony Popovic feels his side’s pulsating win over Melbourne City has rubber-stamped their Hyundai A-League title credentials, while declaring Mark Bridge is in the best form of his Wanderers career.
Western Sydney held on for a 4-3 win over in-form City on Friday night to open up a five-point lead at the top of the ladder ahead of the rest of Round 17 this weekend.
And having put on an impressive display to beat the competition’s deadliest attack, Popovic says there’s no doubt his side is the real deal this season.
“I said before the game if our performance was good, regardless of the result, we’re genuine contenders…the result just tops that off,” he said afterwards.
“The performance was very good so we have to be genuine contenders.
“It’s an extremely satisfying result. How close the game was at the end maybe takes the gloss off but I’ve told the players it was a brilliant win,” the Wanderers boss added.
“For 75 minutes we were excellent. It just shows if you drop off a percent here or there they [City] have so much quality that the game can change quickly.
“It’s a good little reminder for us but overall a fantastic three points.”
While the Wanderers had strong contributions all over the pitch, Bridge was the star.
He scored twice in the second half to go with his assist for Mitch Nichols’ opener while playing a key pass in the lead-up to Brendon Santalab’s match-sealer late on.
“Nothing seems to faze Bridge or surprise me with what he’s doing on the field,” Popovic said of his star attacker.
“I feel he’s playing better than he ever has at our club. Putting the goals aside in year one, how important they were, I just feel his whole game and mentally where he’s at.
“He just understands the game so well and he deserves everything that’s happening for him at the moment.”
Asked if this was the Wanderers best performance of the season so far, Popovic said: “For 75 minutes yes.
“When you look defensively you’re not playing against players that are lacking confidence, they are scoring every week at will and for 75 minutes as a team it was superb defending from us as a unit.
“The way we pressed, we made everything difficult for them and we deserved our lead.”
The Wanderers head to Melbourne next weekend for another huge test against champions Victory on Saturday night.