Le Fondre scores from the spot on Sky Blues return in slender win over Western United
Adam Le Fondre converted from the spot on his A-League comeback to help Sydney FC past an otherwise resolute Western United in a tight 1-0 win to the Sky Blues at Mars Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Le Fondre netted from the penalty spot in the 76th minute of play, benefiting from a divisive decision awarded by referee Shaun Evans after a VAR check.
Evans determined United substitute Ivan Vujica had handled the ball in the box after an Alex Baumjohann pass deflected off his thigh and onto his arm. The referee came to the decision after a lengthy check and Le Fondre stepped forward to rifle the ball into the top corner.
The Sky Blues found their way through after dominating play and the chances throughout the opening 75 minutes, with United 'keeper Ryan Scott starring in goal to keep the likes of Kosta Barbarouses and Trent Buhagiar out with a series of stunning stops.
United responded with agression after going a goal down, pushing hard deep into the seven minutes of added time in search of an equaliser. Victor Sánchez arrived in the box late to meet a lofted Alessandro Diamanti pass, but couldn't send his flicked attempt into the back of the net as time ran out for the hosts to level the scores in Ballarat.
Sydney's 1-0 win helped Steve Corica's side into second position on the table, going above Macarthur FC on goal difference alone, leaving Western United languishing in eighth after a fourth-consecutive defeat.
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Western United arrived at the half-time break level at 0-0 thanks to the sensational glove-work of Scott in between the sticks for the hosts. The Sky Blues took 16 shots to United's two in the opening 45 but couldn't find a way through as Scott pulled off a number of top-quality saves to keep the visiting side at bay.
Buhagiar came into the starting lineup to play alongside Bobô and Barbarouses in attack. Bobô went largely unsighted throughout the first half while Buhagiar and Barbarouses offered a continuous threat to United's goal.
A one-two between the two Sydney forwards sparked the first chance of the game, which Scott got out to block at the feet of Barbarouses as he went to dispatch his shot from close range.
Buhagiar went close to scoring one of the goals of the season when he plucked a ball dropping out of the sky, turning Tomoki Imai with one touch, skipping past Dylan Pierias with his next only to be thwarted by Scott who was quick off his line once more to deny the young forward a magnificent solo effort.
Sydney continued to dominate the contest at Mars Stadium, applying constant pressure to United creator Diamanti and causing a number of turnovers in dangerous areas. Barbarouses saw a shot from distance saved with ease on 33 minutes before cutting onto his left off a through pass from Miloš Ninković to call Scott into another save low to his left.
The New Zealand international proceeded to provide one last chance to Buhagiar for the half, sliding a pass beyond Brendan Hamill to leave the pacy attacker with only Andrew Durante to beat. The United defender sent Buhagiar slightly wide but the shot was still dispatched from a dangerous position, which Scott did well to push off target.
After a rather lifeless offensive showing in the first half, United burst out of the blocks to create a dangerous opportunity early in the second, with Iker Guarrotxena heading a lethal Imai cross off the right flank just wide of the mark.
But the chances dried up until the hour mark, until Ninković lost Diamanti in the middle of the park to drive in on goal. Imai failed to close the space, allowing Ninković to drive into the box, cut onto his right and take a shot on goal which was blocked before making its way to Scott in goal.
Despite their lack of chances, United's defensive efforts and Scott's goalkeeping proficiency helped the home side keep a foothold in the contest at Mars Stadium - until the away side took the lead from the penalty spot through Le Fondre in the 76th minute of play.
The Sky Blues forward netted just 13 minutes into his first appearance for the club since returning from a stint at Indian Super League side Mumbai City FC - but the goal came in contentious circumstances after the decision to award the visitors a penalty came after a Vujica handball in the box.
Baumjohann created the crucial moment with a ball off the right-hand side of the penalty box, which deflected off Vujica's thigh and into his arm. The United substitute came into the game just five minutes before the incident which referee Evans was invited to reassess with the assistance of VAR.
Evans pointed to the spot after watching the incident back, inviting Le Fondre forward to hammer his spot kick into the top-right corner to give the Sky Blues a one-goal lead.
Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Wednesday, May 19 2021
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST
Wellington Phoenix v Western United
Saturday, May 22 2021
Venue: Sky Stadium
Kick-off: 2.05pm AEST
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