The new boys have arrived with an almighty bang.
The Wanderers may enjoy supporter dominance out in Sydney’s west but on the park, Macarthur Bulls have proven they are ready to match it with them and every other club in the competition with a 1-0 win in their inaugural clash and a ‘Battle of the West’ no less in front of an impressive COVID-restricted crowd of 10,128 people at Bankwest Stadium.
A deflected free-kick in the 72nd minute from substitute and highly touted Spanish import Benat Etxebbaria proved the difference in what was a captivating and high quality first-up derby between the new rivals.
It was clear that former Matildas coach Ante Milicic had assembled an impressive squad on paper and within their first 45 minutes in the A-League, he had already found a way to get them to gel on the park.
Socceroos keeper Adam Federici deserved the majority of plaudits on a historic night, pulling off a string of top-class saves to keep Western Sydney at bay and prove that, even at 35, his Socceroos days may not be over.
Their best effort of a vibrant and dominant first half fell to lively 20-year-old winger Moudi Najjar but his header – one of four that he had on goal in the opening 45 minutes – went narrowly wide of the upright.
That chance seemed to wake the Wanderers up and it was young right back Tate Russell who got them out of bed, bursting down the right to create two opportunities, the best of which was spectacularly tipped over the bar by Federici from a Simon Cox drive.
Western Sydney continued to try to impose themselves early in the second half but Federici kept James Troisi at bay before Macarthur’s celebrations were quickly dulled after the offside flag correctly ruled out a Lachie Rose tap in.
Etxeberria stepped up not long after to slot home his new club’s first goal.
BULLS SHINE BOTH YOUNG AND OLD
An impressive team on paper, the Bulls mixture of experienced and emerging players clicked. Federici shone while former Socceroos skipper Mark Milligan proved he’s lost none if his class. Youngsters Najjar and Rose – plucked by Milicic from the obscurity of the NPL’s second division starred with their veteran teammates from the wings.
WANDERERS FAIL TO CAPITALISE ON OFF-SEASON SPLASH
They poached a coach and three players from their rivals in the off-season, creating more waves than any other club but Western Sydney weren’t able to capitalise on that in their opening game of the season. Ziggy Gordon, the most understated of their off-season signings, had an excellent defensive game, while James Troisi was enterprising at times. Bernie Ibini failed to impose himself, however.
VAR-Y GOOD CALL
After all the dramas surrounding VAR, it was refreshing to see it used accurately to overthrow the howler of a penalty call for Western Sydney 10 minutes in. Former EPL midfielder Graham Dorrans smashed his shot into Bulls defender Aleks Jovanovic and while it wasn’t even clear on camera if the ball hit his arms, they were clearly tucked by his side anyway.
BULLS ROAR TO LIFE
The feeling of the unknown that surrounds the opening clash for a professional sporting team in their inaugural clash is by no surprise a daunting one. In the end it was an historic and euphoric one.
But the doubts that exist pre-game can be harrowing for those who have poured everything they have into getting it up off the ground.
How will they actually go on the pitch, how many fans will turn up, will their supporters actually be heard?
“I feel like I’m waiting for my first child to arrive,” said a visibly jittery Gino Marra, Macarthur FC chairman moments before kick-off.
That anxiety wouldn’t have been eased by the near failure to spot a Macarthur supporter around Bankwest Stadium before their first ever clash, even if it was an away trip for them.
“Finally! You’re the first one I’ve seen come through,” remarked a steward to a lonely Bulls fan crowded out in a sea of red black at the turnstiles, albeit two hours before kick-off.
The apprehension of Marra and all those connected with the club would have been eased within 45 minutes as Macarthur’s impressive team proved they had already gelled on the park.
And then again in the second half as Benat Extebarria’s free kick would trickle in for their first goal and ultimately, first win.
Then there’s the assessment of the league’s newest fan base in the stands and while their attendance was small in number – a few hundred at most – they made their presence felt.
There was the faint ding of cowbells ringing from the away section as the players emerged for their warm-up and it was a sound that permeated around Bankwest Stadium for every enterprising attack.
Somewhat joyously, they were accompanied by the beating of a drum in ‘the Bullpen’ at sporadic intervals during the game and while there is no distinct chant to go with the tune as of yet, it’s already a welcome addition to the A-League’s in-game soundtrack.
We’ll wait to see how that sound grows from ‘The Herd’ for their first home game at Campbelltown Stadium against the Mariners on Sunday from their approximate 3000 season ticket holders.
But if their quality on the pitch is anything to go by from the first up showing, the cowbell rings and those jubilant post-match celebrations will be seen and heard more often than not this season.