Western United move into top six after comfortable 2-0 win over Jets
Western United jumped Western Sydney Wanderers into sixth place on the A-League table after clinching a composed 2-0 win over Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park on Monday night.
The Green and Black kept a clean sheet whilst scoring on either side of half time, with a Nicolai Topor-Stanley own goal and a tidy Dylan Pierias finish deciding the contest between a Finals Series contender and the league's bottom-placed side.
Topor-Stanley found the back of his own net after 12 minutes, brushing a dangerous cross from Lachlan Wales into the bottom-right corner of goal.
The home side were disrupted pre-match by the late withdrawal of Luke Duzel in the pre-match warm-up and an injury on 20 minutes to right-back Josh Risdon. But United dealt with the changes comfortably - Steven Lustica came in for Duzel from the start and Risdon was replaced by Aaron Calver, who assisted Pierias' sealing goal in the 69th minute of play.
Mark Rudan's side retained their clean sheet to full-time, seeing off the danger of promising chances presented to Steven Ugarkovic, Jason Hoffman and Angus Thurgate throughout the contest.
The result helped United above the Wanderers into sixth on the A-League table, ensuring Newcastle remain last heading into Matchweek 19.
The home side took a new-look system into the contest at AAMI Park, deploying a back four as opposed to the standard three central defenders plus wing-backs commonly utilised by Rudan's side.
An injury to Duzel in the warm-up led to his replacement in United's starting 11 by Lustica in the minutes before kick-off, but the changes in personnel and formation did little to affect United's approach to the contest, as the hosts got quickly onto the front foot to carve out a one-goal lead after 12 minutes.
Pierias posed an early threat to the Jets down the right flank, boosted by the defensive support of Josh Risdon on the right-hand side of United's back four. The pair created encouraging early chances down one flank, but early goal came off the left wing after Alessandro Diamanti fed Wales down the line with a scooped ball over Newcastle's defence and into the box.
Wales struck a right-footed cross toward the danger area with his first touch, and Topor-Stanley attempted to clear - but instead diverted the ball into the bottom-right corner of goal.
United's depth received another test when Risdon went down under pressure from Jets forward Apostolos Stamatelopoulos in his defensive box, and departed the contest on 20 minutes - Calver emerged from the bench to fill the void.
Newcastle saw their best chance of the opening half hour flash just wide of the top corner when Steven Ugarkovic curled a shot from outside the box from Stamatelopoulos' back-heeled pass. United 'keeper Ryan Scott flew across to cover, but a save wasn't necessary as the ball evaded the target.
United put the ball in the back of the net for the second time in the first half when Besart Berisha flicked Diamanti's free-kick delivery into the back of the net in the 27th minute, before an offside flag was raised to quickly halt Berisha's celebrations.
The tight call was upheld by a VAR check, ensuring Newcastle's deficit remained at just one goal - the way it would remain to the half-time break.
Newcastle's first genuine chance of the second 45 came off the left foot of Angus Thurgate, who unleashed from outside the box to only just evade the top-left corner of United's goal.
The chance came off an excellent piece of interplay down the right wing between Luka Prso, Matt Millar and Stamatelopoulos which ended at the feet of Thurgate to shoot off target.
The rare Jets opportunity allowed United to quickly counter down the other end - Pierias set off on a powerful dribble down the right wing, but as his United teammates surging into the box he elected to shoot himself, sending the ball way wide as the danger quickly dissipated.
Berisha cut a frustrated figure in United's forward half as a number of promising attacks failed to end at his feet in the box. But the prolific striker made his presence felt in defence when Lachlan Jackson headed on goal from a set piece drilled toward the back post by Ugarkovic - the ball was directed on goal with power but Berisha was on hand to clear off the line.
United's attack looked disjointed throughout the second half, but it all came together in the 69th minute as Pierias put the hosts two goals ahead. Berisha instigated the move with a cross-field pass into the path of Victor Sánchez on the right-hand side of the box, who put Calver in behind Newcastle's defence to play a simple pass into the goal-mouth where Pierias was on hand to brush home a strike with relative ease.
Jets boss Craig Deans brought Ali Abbas and Hoffman off his bench in the second half, and the pair of substitutes involved themselves in a dangerous chance to peg one back for the visitors.
Abbas sparked the chance with a ball off the left flank to Millar at the back post. Millar's header fell into Hoffman's path in the box who volleyed toward goal, only to see his well-hit shot tipped around the post by Ryan Scott for a corner.
Hoffman received one final chance to net for his side as stoppage time beckoned, but the United 'keeper was once more up to the challenge as the home side held firm to maintain a clean sheet and seal a comfortably-earned three points.
Melbourne City v Newcastle Jets
Thursday April 29, 2021
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST
Adelaide United v Western United
Friday, April 30 2021
Kick-off: 7.35pm AEST
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