ALM Match Report: Western United 2-2 Sydney FC

Western United A-League Men

Western United and Sydney FC played out an all-action 2-2 draw in front of a bumper crowd at North Hobart Oval on Saturday evening.

The game had everything, beginning with two controversial goals and lengthy VAR interventions which had the Sky Blues 2-0 up just before half-time.

But Western United hit back with full force, Noah Botic pulling the first back right ahead of the interval and then setting up Ben Garuccio to give United the lead.

Both teams traded chances late in the game with the biggest falling to Nikita Rukavytsya deep into stoppage time, but there was to be no winner as both sides departed Tasmania with a point apiece.

Western United Team News

John Aloisi made one change to the starting XI, and it was a welcome one as Sebastian Pasquali came back into the side in midfield.

Steven Lustica dropped out with a hamstring injury while Rukavytsya returned to the bench alongside would-be debutant Jordan Lauton.

First Half

It was a frenetic start to the game with both sides trading forays forward and strong challenges flying in across the pitch to set the tone for an intense affair.

Michael Ruhs was up for it early, putting his body about and looking to stretch Sydney’s defence. The No.9 went on a slaloming solo run and wriggled his away around multiple defenders early on, but the pressure eventually caught up to him and Sydney were able to clear.

Ruhs did get a shot away soon after when the ball sat up for him to hit on the half-volley on the edge of the area, but he just couldn’t keep his effort down before later teeing up Daniel Penha inside the box, whose shot was deflected out for a corner.

A slick piece of interplay down United’s right flank ended in Botic winning a header at the back post, but his effort across the face of goal bounced just wide of the post as Andrew Redmayne scrambled to try to make a save.

United was sharp in possession and looked to get forward and test Sydney’s backline with runs in behind, but the visitors were mostly able to close down any avenues to goal.

Despite the positivity in the performance, Western United would ultimately be left incensed just after the half hour mark.

Referee Lachlan Keevers went over to the VAR monitor and then gave a penalty for a handball against Kane Vidmar, despite the challenge being at incredibly close quarters and the ball appearing to strike Vidmar’s foot in the first place.

Fabio Gomes dispatched the penalty and United was left frustrated by VAR again soon after, though had another big chance between those incidents when Tomoki Imai and Angus Thurgate both couldn’t smuggle the ball in at the back post from a corner.

Less than two minutes after that, Jake Girdwood-Reich scored with a close-range header for Sydney after Gomes nudged a corner back across goal. The offside flag initially went up to rule the goal out, VAR stepped in and made it 2-0 to Sydney.

That wasn’t the end of the drama in the first half, one which had an inordinate amount of stoppage time as both VAR reviews were remarkably lengthy.

Josh Risdon played a splendid ball over the top for Lachie Wales to chase, and the winger obliged with an intelligent cut-back between two Sydney defenders to where Botic was waiting to slot a tidy first-time finish into the bottom corner, breathing life into United going into the second half.

Second Half

Spurred on by that boost from Botic at the end of the first half, Western United wasted no time in tying things up with an equalising goal in the 53rd minute.

Botic was a key protagonist again as he was swift to get to Ruhs’ deflected cross ahead of Redmayne before brilliantly pulling the ball back for Garuccio running in at the back post.

In a very similar position from which he scored against Macarthur a few weeks ago, Garuccio stepped onto the ball and thrashed it into the roof of the net.

Western United continued to search for more goals but was hindered by an incredibly unfortunate sequence of events which saw Aloisi forced to make three substitutions.

Just before that second goal, Risdon was forced off due to an illness and replaced by Connor O’Toole.

Playing in a slightly unnatural position at right-back initially, O’Toole soon returned to his favoured left side as Garuccio exited with an injury and then unbelievably, O’Toole himself was forced off moments later having only been on the pitch for just over 20 minutes.

Amidst all that, Zach Lisolajski came on to play at left-back in his second professional appearance, Rukavytsya made his return from injury up front and Jordan Lauton slotted into midfield, making his pro debut and becoming the 4,000th unique player to compete in Australia’s national competition.

United showed remarkable determination to keep battling after the interruption of those substitutions, denying Sydney FC’s advances and creating a number of opportunities to win the game at the other end.

Tom Heward-Belle made two good saves to deny Robert Mak and Joe Lolley heading into the final five minutes after Rukavytsya had his first sighter minutes prior, looking sharp off the bench.

The Western United striker would go on to have two even bigger chances before the final whistle, the first a cushioned right-footed volley from a delightful cross by Lisolajski. Redmayne made a good save to push the effort around the post, but the referee decided to award a goal kick.

That was at the beginning of the fifth of seven minutes of stoppage time, and then at the end of the sixth Rukavytsya found himself eyeball to eyeball with Redmayne after Hayden Matthews fumbled Wales’ cross into his path.

Rukavytsya reached to control the bouncing ball with his left foot and had to react quickly on his weaker right foot, shooting ultimately too close to Redmayne as the Sydney keeper made the save to ensure both sides would share the points after a breathless 100 minutes-plus in Hobart.