Western United fought for a massive opening day victory in the Isuzu UTE A-League Men, defeating rivals Melbourne City 2-1 at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
Lachie Wales broke the game open with a neat finish in the 60th minute but Melbourne City debutant Tolgay Arslan equalised just two minutes later.
There were chances at both ends but United was awarded a penalty in the final five minutes of normal time, which Noah Botic duly dispatched to send the Green and Black faithful into raptures.
The win is United’s first in the opening round of the season since the Club’s first ever season, getting the 2023/24 campaign off to a dream start.
John Aloisi named four debutants in his first starting XI of the season, with Tom Heward-Belle starting in goal and Daniel Penha, Angus Thurgate and Riku Danzaki lining up across the midfield.
Botic started up front with Wales alongside and Josh Risdon led the team out as Club captain for the first time.
The new, dynamic Western United was on show immediately as Wales got in behind down the right-hand side and won a corner in the opening seconds.
United’s No.8 soon had an even clearer opening when he broke through in a more central position, but his touch sent him a little too wide and he could only place his shot into Jamie Young’s grasp at the near post.
Once both sides settled into the contest there was largely nothing between the teams, with City maintaining the bulk of possession but United not allowing them any space with the ball.
The Green and Black combined well in the mid-third with Penha, Wales and Risdon immediately striking up a connection on the right-hand side.
City slowly began to inch further forward and thought they had hit the front just past the half hour. Heward-Belle made a strong save to deny Hamza Sakhi’s initial effort and Jamie Maclaren turned in the rebound, but VAR showed the City No.9 to be offside and the goal was disallowed.
Aside from a couple of half chances there was no further threat to either goal in the first half and the sides went into the break with the deadlock yet to be broken.
City sought to increase the tempo coming out of half-time and immediately got on the front foot, pinning United back in its defensive third.
Heward-Belle made a comfortable save from Aziz Behich before a superb stop moments later, leaping and flinging his right hand up high to tip Maclaren’s effort around the post and out for a corner.
City couldn’t capitalise on their period of dominance and United went up the other end to hit the lead after a lovely piece of play.
Pressing high up the pitch, United forced a turnover and Penha picked the ball up in the middle of the pitch before playing a lovely reverse pass to Wales.
Showing excellent composure and poise, Wales kept the ball under pressure and slid a smart finish into the bottom left corner.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as Arslan and Maclaren linked up and with a little bit of fortune off Risdon’s initial tackle, Arslan was able to finish coolly underneath Heward-Belle and into the net.
Both sides went looking for a winner and traded forays forward, and United hearts were in mouths when Maclaren seemed to break through in the 85th minute, but Jacob Tratt recovered brilliantly to force him wide, and the City No.9 could only fire his shot into the site netting.
City were made to rue that as United went up the other end to take the win. Ramy Najjarine made a big impact off the bench and won a penalty when his cross struck the arm of Nuno Reis.
Botic assumed responsibility and converted with aplomb, rolling his effort into the bottom right corner before joining the Western United fans in celebration.
The Green and Black went on to see out the win, in doing so inflicting a first opening day defeat on Melbourne City since 2011 and picking up a huge three points to start the season.