Adam Le Fondre, Sydney FC put tired Western United’s finals hopes on ice

Western United coach Mark Rudan has unloaded on a perceived treatment of his club as ‘second-class citizens’ after Sydney FC and returning striker Adam Le Fondre downed the Victorians 1-0 on a frigid Saturday afternoon in Ballarat.

Making his first appearance for the two-time defending A-League champions since returning from winning the Indian Super League with Mumbai City, Le Fondre entered the contest in 63rd and had an immediate impact: providing the game’s decisive goal from the penalty spot in the 76th minute. 

That penalty, however, proved contentious; a lengthy VAR review required before referee Shaun Evans adjudged that Ivan Vujica had committed an infringement when his block of an Alexander Baumjohann cross ricocheted off his thigh and into his arm. 

Clearly incensed with the decision, United coach Mark Rudan – who has expressed his frustration with several VAR decisions that have gone against his side in 2020-21- had his emotions bubble over in the aftermath and was booked for dissent by Evans.

“I think when the opposition players say it – Adam Le Fondre said it to me that he couldn’t believe it,” Rudan said post-game. 

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“The reaction is always the first thing that you look for. There wasn’t much of a reaction from the Sydney FC bench or the players. Shaun Evans was five meters from it, saw it clearly… made a decision to play on, everyone was happy with it and then all of a sudden it gets called back. 

“Once again, we get dudded. We don’t deserve it. 

“I’m sick and tired of getting treated like a second rate citizen in this league. It’s just not fair. We’ve got great people at this football club. We work extremely hard. My coaching staff work so hard, my players are incredible human beings. 

“For us to continue to be on the wrong side of these decisions it’s shattering for me, for my chairman, my CEO and everyone involved in this football club.”

Next in action when they take on Melbourne Victory on Wednesday evening, the three points earned by the Harboursiders moves them back into second on the table via goal difference over Macarthur FC – who had briefly occupied the slot after defeating Victory on Friday evening. 

“I’m not sure about 90 minutes but at some stage, he’s going to start,” Sydney coach Steve Corica said on when Le Fondre will next feature. 

“Whether that’s mid-week or the weekend against the Wanderers. We’ve got two big, important games. Two rivalry games. One against Victory and then the Wanderers. One of those games I’d say he’d start.”

Western, conversely, now find themselves three points back of sixth-placed Brisbane Roar having played twice more than the Queenslanders – the sophomore A-League club now winless in five games. 

Anything less than three points in their coming fixture against Wellington Phonix next Saturday – set to be the first the Kiwi side play in New Zealand in well over a year – would seemingly smother whatever nascent playoff hopes they still hold. 

“I told [the United squad that] if they give me that [effort] we’re in the mix and we play finals football,” said the home gaffer. “I’m confident. I’m staying positive. 

“They continue to give me that effort we play finals. [We get] 12 points, we finish on 40 points, and we play finals football. 

“Difficult? Don’t understand what that word is, we don’t understand what that word means. 

“For us, it’s about staying positive and making the best of our opportunities. We see 12 points, we’re going to get 12 points. That’s how we see it. 

“And god held anyone trying to stop us from getting there because we will give everything of ourselves to ensure that we get maximum out of ourselves.” 

Saturday’s fixture capping off a hellacious run of games in which they travelled approximately 9,672 km to play five games in two weeks, United adopted a somewhat enforced plan to sit back, surrender possession and keep Sydney in front of them.

“[I want to say] how proud I am of my players,” said Rudan 

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“[An] absolute superhuman effort by them. We’ve travelled to five different cities across the country in 14 days and played five games. 

“That is extremely unfair, extremely unfair. They never [should] have [been able to] put on a performance like that. Superhuman. 

“And I told them that after the game. They gave me everything of themselves plus more. 

“Do we as a football club deserve it? No. 

“Unfortunately, when it comes to decision making, I feel as though we’re treated like second-rate citizens sometimes. 

“And it’s not fair. We need to be more respected as a football club as far as I’m concerned.” 

A perusal of the stat sheet at halftime suggested that this resulted in an opening stanza of Sky Blue domination: the Harboursiders winning the possession battle 60-40 and outshooting their foes 16 (with eight on target) to two.

But for all their dominance, only three of those efforts on target were notable in the sense that they presented a clear danger; speedy attacker Trent Buhagiar providing the first of those chances in the 16th minute. 

Killing a high, looping ball forward in a manner that allowed him to turn United defender Tomoki Imai, the Olyroos-contender promptly rounded Dylan Pierias and advanced in on goal, only for his subsequent shot to be saved by a charging Ryan Scott. 

Rebounding well after shipping a combined eight goals in his side’s previous two defeats against Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory, Scott proved pivotal once more in the 37th minute when he denied a driven effort from Kosta Barbarous that appeared destined for the bottom left corner. 

The 25-year-old proved vital again three minutes later when Sydney broke quickly and got the ball to Buhagiar, who promptly cut outside and beat marker Andrew Durante for pace only for his resulting shot to be palmed away by the United custodian. 

“I was very happy with the first-half performance,” said Corica. “I thought we played really well. I think we should have been up by halftime – probably comfortably. 

“It’s been a bit strange this year. 

“Sometimes [today] it was our final ball into the box and then when we did have opportunities to score obviously the shot wasn’t good enough. A little bit more composure in front of goals maybe would have helped.

“Obviously creating a lot, especially in the first half and then second half probably not as much.”

Scott was comfortably his side’s best performer throughout the 90 minutes, as while coach Mark Rudan’s side did do enough to prevent their defences from being penetrated outside of the contentious penalty – they offered little going the other way.

Their best chance of the half arrived in the 23rd minute; Lachlan Wales sending a tame header towards Sydney keeper Andrew Redmayne after being picked out by Alessandro Diamanti after a short corner routine. 

Diamanti himself cut onto his left foot and attempted to bend an effort around Redmayne in the 67th minute in another rare United attack, only for it to fail to come back enough and sail wide. 

The hosts appealed for a handball penalty of their own in the 93rd minute when Paulo Retre blocked away a Vujica cross, but the play was waved away for a corner. Replays suggested that even had VAR brought the play back for a handball it would likely have been for a free-kick outside the area and not a penalty.

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