The Western Sydney Wanderers capped a remarkable debut A-League season by claiming the Premiers' Plate with an emphatic 3-0 win over the Newcastle Jets at a packed Hunter Stadium.
A massive contingent of Wanderers fans were on hand to bolster the season-high crowd of 22,518 and they witnessed a wonderful performance as ex-Jet Mark Bridge came back to haunt his old side with two first-half goals as Western Sydney led 2-0 at the break.
The Jets mounted a fightback in the second half but the Wanderers defence held firm and a Rocco Visconte rocket sealed the win ten minutes from full-time. The win saw the Wanderers move six points clear of second-placed Central Coast with the Mariners likely to now field a youth side in their dead-rubber clash against the Melbourne Heart tomorrow.
The loss relegates the Jets to a disappointing eighth place after they enjoyed their best start to a season but they fell away mid-campaign as the club struggled for consistency in attack and leaked far too many goals. But the night belonged to the Wanderers, who now go into the Hyundai A-League finals series on the back of a 12-game unbeaten streak.
The Wanderers applied pressure early and were rewarded when ex-Jets Tarek Elrich, Labinot Haliti and Bridge combined to open the scoring in the sixth minute. Right-back Elrich switched the play to Haliti on the left-hand edge of the 18-yard box and his lovely first time volley across the face of goal was missed by Dino Kresinger but not Bridge, who poked home at the back post.
Wanderers walking it
The Wanderers doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark when another former Jet, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, hoisted a ball forward where Kresinger flicked on a header for Bridge to get in behind Conner Chapman. Although the striker never really had total control he did enough to keep the ball moving forward and chip it over the oncoming Mark Birighitti for his second goal of the evening.
Despite their endeavour the Jets just couldn't break down the Wanderers defence and a frustrated Emile Heskey was yellow carded for upending Western Sydney goalkeeper Ante Covic as both players went for a high ball.
Jets coach Gary van Egmond brought on right back Scott Neville for attacking midfielder Marko Jesic at half-time in an attempt to stem the flow and shortly after replaced Michael Bridges and Craig Goodwin with James Brown and James Virgili. The home side managed to engineer a couple of half chances; Virgili saw his rising shot saved by Covic before the Wanderers custodian did well to deny a low driving chance from Zenon Caravella.
Adam Taggart then hit the post with a shot on the turn after a corner. Bridge should have completed his hat-trick 15 minutes from the final whistle when he pulled down a Covic long-ball on the edge of the Jets penalty area, but he fired his shot just wide of the target.
The Wanderers sealed the match in spectacular fashion when Visconte, who had come off the bench for Elrich, fired a blistering 25-yard left-foot shot through a crowded penalty area and into the top right-hand corner of the net. Bridge almost made it four when he pounced on a loose clearance from Birighitti and tried to slot his shot from 30 yards out only to see it slide agonisingly wide of the right post.