Western United fell to a second straight defeat on Sunday evening, going down 3-1 to Sydney FC at AAMI Park.
Despite Josh Risdon opening the score in the 16th minute, Sydney fought back and had the lead before half-time via Adam Le Fondre and Robert Mak.
Joe Lolley added to the visitors’ lead in the second half and United couldn’t find a route back into the contest, with full focus turning to a meeting with Macarthur FC on Friday night.
There was just one change to the starting XI with Nikolai Topor-Stanley coming in to replace the injured Tomoki Imai.
That allowed Sebastian Pasquali to be elevated into the matchday squad for the first time since the last round of the 2020/21 season, with the No.21 taking a spot on the bench alongside last week’s goal scorer Nicolas Milanovic.
Sydney had the first opening of the game in the 9th minute as they worked the ball down the right hand side to fashion a header for Le Fondre, but Jamie Young was equal to it to tip it onto the crossbar.
United began to inch further forward and won a corner just past the quarter-hour mark as Andrew Redmayne smothered James Troisi’s attempt.
The corner was initially cleared but Neil Kilkenny won it back and found Risdon on the edge of the area, and the captain turned beautifully before sending a deflected shot into the net via the right-hand post.
Sydney had a chance to get back into the match when Le Fondre drew a penalty from Leo Lacroix, but Young was again on the spot to make a smart save with his feet.
The hosts continued to look for a second goal but it was Sydney that struck next, with Le Fondre this time converting from 12 yards after Topor-Stanley had fouled Joe Lolley.
That sparked the visitors into life and they hit the lead before half-time when Mak cut in from the left-wing and bent a lovely strike into the far corner.
United had a deficit to overcome in the second half but couldn’t create any meaningful looks on goal before Sydney edged further in front in the 69th minute.
It was another piece of quality that breached Young’s goal and an almost identical goal to Mak’s as Lolley found the opposite corner with a strong left-footed drive from the right-hand side of the box.
The Green and Black continued to search for a way back into the match but it wasn’t forthcoming, as John Aloisi’s side fell to defeat.
Player in Focus: Josh Risdon
Despite the result, Risdon once again showed his quality and engine down the right-hand touchline with a typically resolute display.
The captain opened the scoring with a superb effort, just his second goal for the Club and his first since the inaugural season.
Risdon continued to shine defensively, repeatedly winning challenges and trying to set the team going forward in possession.
With the 2022 FIFA World Cup around the corner, Risdon will be looking to continue this vein of form with an eye on making the squad in Qatar.
Positives to take from the first half
Particularly in the first half, there were plenty of positives to take from Western United’s performance heading further into the season.
The connections between Risdon and Lachie Wales and Ben Garuccio and Connor Pain were on show, while James Troisi began to see more of the ball in space in midfield.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls was stretching Sydney’s defence with runs in behind, and United might well have been comfortably in front had it taken chances in the final third.
Aloisi will take confidence from that first half and will hope to see his side improve its consistency, with the clash against Macarthur FC right around the corner.
Youth on show off the bench
After opening his account off the bench last weekend, Nicolas Milanovic got another opportunity to shine with another lively 15-minute cameo.
Dylan Pierias had come onto the pitch earlier in the contest and showed his typical pace and direct running down the right-wing, getting at his direct marker on a number of occasions.
Noah Botic also emerged from the bench and produced a spark up front, nearly playing in fellow substitute Tongo Doumbia to pull a goal back late on.