Kucharski strike caps dramatic Sydney Derby, Irankunda can’t save Reds, Glory humbled


It was another action-packed weekend, as a late Sydney FC goal broke Western Sydney hearts, Perth were humiliated and Adelaide’s wunderkind faltered when the stakes were highest. Plenty to get into.

Here are your A-League talking points.

Wanderers in finals dogfight after derby heartbreak

When Zac Sapsford duly put away an unmarked header deep into injury time at Allianz Stadium it looked certain the latest edition of the Sydney Derby would end in a stalemate. The scriptwriter had one more twist up their sleeve, though, as Jaiden Kucharski sealed an important three points for the Sky Blues with a 98th-minute winner.

Marko Rudan, under mounting pressure in Parramatta, now has a real challenge on his hands to lead WSW into the finals. Melbourne City’s visit to CommBank Stadium on Saturday now looms almost as a winner takes all affair.

Considering all the recent trouble the competition has faced, the sights and sounds of a well-populated if not sold-out ground and a tense, hard-fought battle on the pitch were great to see.

Perhaps not the most exciting game for the neutral, there was enough late drama to keep anyone watching on the edge of their seat. As the A-League ambles along towards the finals amid considerable off-field uncertainty, it was a good reminder of the scenes football is capable of producing.

(Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

Also encouraging was the lack of trouble in the stands. The RBB made their return, and the moronic wristband system for The Cove seemed to at least keep away any troublemakers from the Moore Park Road end of the ground.

Ten-man Bulls end Adelaide’s season despite Nestor magic

It’s undoubtedly been a horrendous campaign in the City of Churches, and the final nail was hammered by an unlikely source – Tommy Smith – as Adelaide conceded twice while boasting a man advantage on Friday evening. The lone goal managed by the Reds, unsurprisingly, came through the magic of Nestory Irankunda, the 18-year-old thrilling the Coopers Stadium faithful for the final time with a brilliant strike to open the scoring.

Perhaps no match better sums up Adelaide’s season. Apart from Irankunda’s influence there’s been precious little for those fans to cheer in 2023-24. It’s clear the forward line needs a shake-up over the off-season, and while Carl Veart’s job is still quite safe, he’ll know another campaign like this one will not be acceptable.

The Bulls, meanwhile, booked their playoffs place after two straight defeats had their top-six hopes in some doubt. Mile Sterjovski’s side have been far from consistent this season but possess the kind of attacking threat you need in sudden-death football, so I’m backing them to make some noise in the finals.

8-0 humbling a reminder of challenge facing Pelligra

I feel for Alen Stajcic. He’s a great coach, but it feels like Pep Guardiola himself couldn’t make the finals with this Perth Glory side. Glory’s latest humiliation came at the hands of a rampant Melbourne City at AAMI Park, with Tolgay Arslan notching a hat-trick to continue his brilliant form recently.

The protracted sale process in the west finally ended with property developer Ross Pelligra taking over at HBF Park back in February. Since then, Pelligra has looked engaged and has been saying all the right things to get the fan-base onside – truth be told, though, the supporters are probably just glad to have some stability at the club again after Tony Sage almost ran them into the ground.

Let’s be clear, there’s no quick fix for the new ownership here. As mentioned there’s plenty of work to do off-field in Perth, and the squad needs an overhaul if they’re going to be competitive in 2024-25. Having Pelligra at the helm – or anyone, for that matter – is inherently better than a Jets-like situation, but stakeholders need to keep things in perspective.

Sunday afternoon’s 8-0 humbling could well be a mere speed bump as Glory days return to this once-proud club. The onus is on Pelligra to ensure it doesn’t, rather, become the new normal.

Not the result Glory fans hoped for after travelling thousands of kilometres. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Quick hits

-They left it late but the Nix temporarily went top of the table after a Finn Surman goal, only for Mark Jackson’s Mariners to answer with a win of their own in Tarneit over the lowly Western United. The premiership race will go right down to the wire, it looks like.

-The longer this saga drags on, the more fearful I am that the Jets’ days are numbered. There must be a point where the APL and Football Australia say enough is enough – and I don’t think we’re far off that stage. At least the players gave their long-suffering supporters reason to smile, downing Brisbane 2-0 at Suncorp Stadium.

-Josh Nisbet should be this season’s Johnny Warren Medalist, but gee, Joe Lolley and Tolgay Arslan have also built very compelling cases themselves.

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