Western Sydney Wanderers are off the mark in the AFC Champions League after beating Guizhou Renhe 1-0 away from home on Wednesday night.
Western Sydney Wanderers are off the mark in the AFC Champions League and can harbour realistic ambitions of progressing to the knockout stages after beating Guizhou Renhe 1-0 away from home on Wednesday.
An early goal from Mark Bridge was all it took for Tony Popovic's reigning Hyundai A-League premiers to seal all three points in Guiyang, where the Chinese Super League hosts were devoid of ideas throughout the contest.
Next up for Western Sydney is a home game against A-League top-six rivals Adelaide United on Saturday, before the visit of Kawasaki Frontale to Parramatta Stadium four days later.
Wanderers coach Tony Popovic, seeking to arrest a run of three consecutive defeats in all competitions, including a 3-1 reverse at home to Ulsan in their ACL debut, made a total of nine changes from the starting XI that lost the derby to Sydney FC by the same scoreline on Saturday night.
Only centre-back Michael Beauchamp and forward Mark Bridge were retained, as recent arrivals Daniel Mullen and Anthony Golec, eligible for the Asian competition but not the A-League this season, were afforded debuts in Western Sydney colours.
Just as they did against Korean opposition on matchday one, the Wanderers struck early in the game at the Olympic Sports Center. Mullen met Shannon Cole's 10th-minute corner and Guizhou goalkeeper Zhang Lie could only palm the ball away, with Mark Bridge able to poke home from close range.
The hosts struggled to mount a meaningful response in the first half, although Xavier Chen did shoot wide from range five minutes after his side went behind, while Yu Hai was able to run at the defence before cutting inside and forcing a smart save from Jerrad Tyson in the 26th minute.
Guizhou made two changes at the break in a bid to spark an improved showing. Former Bundesliga player Zvjezdan Misimovic replaced Rao Weihui, while Chen Zijie came on for Li Chunyu.
Popovic responded to the Bosnia international's growing influence by replacing the tiring Kwabena Appiah with Youssouf Hersi, while Aaron Mooy took over from Jason Trifiro just past the hour mark.
With the hosts still struggling to carve out an opening, the Wanderers should have put the game to bed in the 67th minute, when Zhang Lie inexplicably opted not to catch or clear a routine Hersi cross. Cole, perhaps surprised that the ball was allowed to reach him at the back post, was unable to turn it into an unguarded net.
At the other end Misimovic struck a free-kick straight at a grateful Tyson, while Yu Hai saw a decent shot blocked wide for a corner as the clock ticked down.
Guizhou finally applied something approaching regular pressure in the closing stages, with several hurried clearances and determined blocks required to prevent the Wanderers' reserve keeper from being troubled again.
Ultimately, the assault arrived too late to deny Western Sydney maximum points, and the result leaves Guizhou starring at a likely elimination after they also lost their group-stage opener away to Kawasaki Frontale on matchday one.
Guizhou Renhe 0 Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Mark Bridge 10')