Milligan strike helps Bulls clinch 2-1 win over fast-finishing United
Macarthur FC have all-but secured their place in the Finals Series in the club's first A-League campaign after beating Western United 2-1 at Leichhardt Oval on Monday night.
Goals to Markel Susaeta and Mark Milligan ensured the Bulls took a 2-0 lead to half-time, and it seemed as though a straight-forward win was on the cards against a United side without a win in seven games.
But a powerful Iker Guarrotxena header just beyond the hour mark gave the Green and Black deserved reward for a fantastic second-half showing in which they pushed the Bulls all the way to the final whistle.
United went close to tying things up when Bulls defender Jake McGing intercepted a Dylan Pierias cross but sent the ball through Adam Federici's legs and toward the goal line, only for Macarthur substitute Liam Rose to spare McGing's blushes by getting back to clear the danger.
Michael Ruhs failed to apply the sealer for Macarthur in stoppage time when United gloveman Ryan Scott ventured outside his 18-yard box to close the space, and the Bulls were forced to wait nervously as a further three minutes ensued. Scott was sent forward for a pair of late attacking corners but United were unable to find the all-important second goal to steal a point at Leichhardt Oval.
Of the three sides placed seventh to ninth on the A-League table still in contention to make the top six, only Perth Glory can overtake Macarthur by the end of the season if the Bulls lose their final match to Wellington and Perth win their remaining two games on the road.
The Bulls took their time clicking into gear before getting on top to close out the first half, opening up a two-goal advantage over United at Leichhardt Oval. But the Green and Black had the better of the opening chances, with Alessandro Diamanti causing chaos with his creativity and ambition.
The Italian called Federici into a diving save after thumping a low shot from outside the box toward on target. Then, with 25 minutes on the clock, Diamanti took the ball just past the halfway line before sending a long-range shot toward goal. The United midfielder had Federici well beaten as he tracked back desperately, and in the end he could only watch as the ball faded past the post instead of nestling into the back of the net.
The Bulls bossed the ball through the opening stages of the game but lacked a clinical edge going forward until Susaeta struck on 27 minutes to put his side ahead.
Milligan began the attacking foray with a lofted ball angled toward Matt Derbyshire in the 18-yard box. The Englishman rose high between Brendan Hamill and Connor Pain to knock the ball down to Susaeta who feinted to shoot before dinking the ball past Aaron Calver to find the space needed to open the scoring.
Bulls head coach Ante Milicic deployed Milligan in midfield in the absence of Denis Genreau, who departed to join Graham Arnold's Socceroos camp this week. The move paid dividends just beyond the half-hour mark when his captain rattled the back of the net with a shot from outside the box.
Milligan skipped past Guarrotxena in midfield to play a one-two with Derbyshire, shrugged off the pressing Calver whilst shifting the ball to his right foot and sending the ball into the top-right corner of goal.
Another half-chance presented to United early in the second half when Diamanti intercepted an errant back-pass from James Meredith in the final third. Diamanti looked up to find Guarrotxena darting into the penalty are and from a tight angle the Spaniard poked his shot past the bottom-right corner and out for a goal kick.
Derbyshire - who assisted both of his side's first-half goals - then looked to get in on the act himself with a half-volleyed attempt off a lofted Susaeta through ball which, like Guarrotxena's attempt, faded past the post.
The Englishman tried once again from distance in the 61st minute, and a magnificent Scott save sparked a moment of chaos. The United 'keeper tipped the curling attempt off the post but the ball dropped into Charles M'Mombwa's path at the back post; his resulting shot from the tightest of angles diverted off the woodwork, onto the hip of Scott and out for a Bulls corner.
Federici matched Scott's goalkeeping heroics with a similarly impressive save down the other end, getting out to close the space in front of Diamanti who got behind Macarthur's defensive line to meet Guarrotxena's through ball.
Diamanti attempted a dinked finish and Federici's right leg ensured a corner was conceded instead of a goal - but Guarrotxena would proceed to score off the resulting corner with a well-timed leap and emphatic headed finish.
After pegging one goal back United showed greater pace, strength and determination in the final half-hour of play to make the Bulls work to secure all three points at Leichhardt Oval.
Guarrotxena, Diamanti and Pierias continued to cause Macarthur problems with their attacking play and the Green and Black almost found their way back to parity when McGing deflected Pierias' ball across the six-yard box through Federici's legs. The ball squirmed toward the goal line before Liam Rose got back to clear the ball away from danger, preventing a calamitous own goal from ruining his side's crucial win.
Macarthur FC v Wellington Phoenix
Friday, June 4 2021
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST
Central Coast Mariners v Western United
Saturday, June 5 2021
Central Coast Stadium
Kick-off: 5.05pm AEST
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