Western United fell to a first defeat in four matches in the Isuzu UTE A-League Men, going down 1-0 to Western Sydney Wanderers at CommBank Stadium on Sunday.
Yeni Ngbakoto’s first-half goal consigned United to the result and just its second match without scoring a goal this season.
Despite the loss, the nature of the league means United remains only four points outside of the top six as John Aloisi’s side sets about bouncing back next week.
There were two changes to Aloisi’s starting XI, one of which was a late inclusion for Jacob Tratt who made his return from injury in place of Leo Lacroix who dropped out with a minor hamstring issue.
Aleksandar Prijovic also returned to the starting XI after missing the last two matches, with Noah Botic dropping to the bench.
As has been the case with a number of Western United’s recent matches, this one started at quite a frenetic pace with both sides exchanging early forays forward.
Neither side managed to get as far as testing the opposition goalkeeper, though, with much of the play being played down the flanks and the two defences able to clear any crosses into the box.
The Wanderers began to get on top in the territory battle and had the game’s biggest chance on the 20-minute mark when Ngbakoto’s snap shot appeared destined for the bottom corner, but Jamie Young made an outstanding save to claw the ball away to safety.
Ngbakoto wasn’t to be denied less than 10 minutes later as the ball fell kindly to him after a deflection in the box, allowing him to finish coolly into the back of the net.
Brandon Borrello was menacing for Western Sydney, but United was able to defend its own box strongly to ensure the hosts’ greatest threat for the remainder of the half was a couple of corners.
United nearly made a corner of its own count when James Troisi’s initial delivery was cleared only as far as Neil Kilkenny who looped in a cross which collided with the left-hand post and rebounded across the face of goal.
Connor Pain had a half volley in his right foot that flashed just wide of the post as United enjoyed an improved period just before the break but was left with work to do in the second half.
Western United started on the front foot after the break with an eye on restoring parity as early as possible, but Western Sydney hit back and drew two strong saves from Young.
The first was from a low drive by Adama Traore and the second a forceful long-range strike from Oliver Bozanic, both which required different but equally impressive interventions from United’s shot stopper.
A triple change just past the hour mark sought to provide an injection of energy in United’s attack and Nicolas Milanovic got straight on the ball but ended up hitting a tame shot straight at Lawrence Thomas.
Young was on the spot to make a strong save again soon after when Ngbakoto cut inside and shot from just inside the box, leaving United with around 20 minutes remaining to salvage a result from the game.
Western Sydney thought they had clinched the result when Brandon Borrello found the net with 10 minutes remaining, but the goal was disallowed as Romain Amalfitano impeded Young’s view from an offside position.
A number of stoppages resulted in nine minutes of added time in the second half and despite United throwing everything at a potential equaliser, it wasn’t to be as the Wanderers took the points.