Western Sydney clinches 1st place in A-League
NEWCASTLE, Australia (AP) — The Western Sydney Wanderers beat the Newcastle Jets 3-0 to clinch first place in the A-League and leave their city neighbors led by former Juventus star Alessandro Del Piero still with a chance of qualifying for the playoffs.
The surprising first-year Wanderers finished the regular season with 57 points, six clear of second-place Central Coast, which plays its final match on Saturday.
But the Jets’ loss left them out of a top-six playoff spot and allowed Del Piero’s Sydney FC to remain in sixth place despite a 3-1 loss to defending champion Brisbane on Thursday.
It might only be a brief reprieve for Sydney, however. The Perth Glory, a point behind Sydney, could take the final spot with a win on Saturday over Adelaide United, which has already qualified for the finals.
Western Sydney striker Mark Bridge scored in the sixth and 33rd minutes and Rocky Visconte added the Wanderers’ final goal with a 25-meter strike with 10 minutes remaining. That started an early celebration in Newcastle for a contingent of about 10,000 Western Sydney supporters, who made the two-hour trip north.
Former England striker Emile Heskey, the league’s other marquee signing this year along with Del Piero, returned from a three-week injury layoff for Newcastle but couldn’t make any inroads into Wanderers territory.
The Wanderers’ minor premiership earns them an automatic berth into the Asian Champions League. They finished the regular season with 11 wins in their last 12 matches, an accomplishment which coach Tony Popovic says will give them confidence in the playoffs.
“We go in there with a lot of belief ... that’s a fact. We go into Asia now,” he said. “But there’s still a job to do. So we’ll do everything we can to get ourselves to the grand final.”
Brisbane’s win put the Roar into the playoffs. They’ll play the Victory in Melbourne next Friday or Adelaide next Sunday in South Australia depending on how the remaining matches finish.
It capped a remarkable comeback under Mike Mulvey, who took over as head coach from Rado Vidosic in late December with the Roar all but written off for the season.
“I don’t feel relief — it’s excitement,” Mulvey said. “I am very proud of the guys. We have had our moments since I have come in but tonight is something that they can take great credit for. They deserve it.”
In Sunday’s final match of the regular season, last-place Wellington takes on the Victory. Depending on the Perth-Adelaide result on Saturday, the Victory could go into the match knowing they’ve clinched third place.