“We were literally in the tunnel when we made the change with [Naoki] Tsubaki coming in [for Berenguer]. But with the way we play, the way we do things, players are across it. I won’t say it was a simple change – it can be a disruptive time – but it’s full credit to Tsubaki, full credit to the team who stuck to what we said we wanted to do.
“Hopefully [Kisnorbo] enjoyed watching it on the TV back in the hotel room. We spoke to him before the game … the messages were the same, it just came from a different person.”
The Wanderers, in stark contrast, were woeful, slumping to consecutive losses – both at home – for the first time under coach Carl Robinson’s reign.
After a promising start to the season Western Sydney has now won just once in their last five outings – a 2-0 triumph over bottom-placed Melbourne Victory – despite boasting arguably the strongest and deepest squad in the A-League, and appear to be regressing at a time when they should be building.
“It’s disappointing, without a doubt. There’s no point hiding away from it, because with two wins you’re in a good position, but two defeats and everyone thinks it’s the end of the world,” Robinson said.
“What I’ll say is, we’re the same team we were four days ago – let’s not get carried away here. I won’t get carried away.
“But you can’t defend like that. We’re in professional sports here. You can look for excuses … I won’t do that. Individually we need to be better, collectively we need to be better.”
Maclaren gave City a deserved lead in just the sixth minute, with City’s high press snuffing out an errant pass from Keanu Baccus as the Wanderers tried to play out from defence.
Craig Noone pounced immediately, feeding the ball to straight Maclaren who produced an expert left-footed finish past Daniel Margush.
The night didn’t get much better for Baccus, who was yellow carded for diving in an attempt to win the penalty and then substituted out of the match at half-time for Jordon Mutch.
City could and should have been further in front by that point, with Andrew Nabbout coming closest to extending their lead on the half-hour mark after a darting run down the right, but his shot slammed into the right post.
Maclaren eventually made it 2-0 in the 54th minute from the penalty spot after the video assistant referee spotted a handball by James Troisi, who was turning and lifted his arms to protect his face from being hit by the ball as it was crossed into the box.
Robinson fumed with the decision post-match, saying Troisi claimed the ball came off his leg first and that it wasn’t enough of a “clear and obvious” error for the VAR to step in, before complaining about general inconsistencies in refereeing across the A-League.
“We had the head of the referees down to us, because I wanted to speak to him about a number of incidents – not just this year but in previous years,” Robinson said.
“And he was good, he was very good, he told us everything probably I want to hear. But … the clear and obvious we talk about, there was a decision today, the referee’s stood seven yards away and the VAR gets involved. Is it clear and obvious? It has to be 100 per cent, which is stated. It was not 100 per cent.
“So again, I’ll call him tomorrow and he’ll tell me the same thing, tell me what I want to hear. I’ve been in the game for a long time … it’s actually making me not enjoy football and that’s a shame.”
The inevitable second-half surge from the Wanderers, after the introduction of Bernie Ibini and Bruce Kamau off the bench, was well contained by City.
The hosts’ best chance came in the 71st minute, when Kamau headed Thomas Aquilina’s volley-cum-cross on target, but Thomas Glover produced a terrific reaction save to keep it out.
The Wanderers face Western United – led by in-form veterans Alessandro Diamanti and Besart Berisha – on Sunday, while City have a derby against Melbourne Victory to come on Saturday night.
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Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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