Kwame Yeboah’s late goal kept Western Sydney Wanderers undefeated against Sydney FC this season as the 24th Sydney Derby remained locked in a 1-1 draw at an empty Bankwest Stadium.
The runaway Hyundai A-League leaders had fallen 1-0 in both previous derby fixtures in 2019/20, the only blemishes on their remarkable record this season, but Adam Le Fondre’s 35th-minute effort ended a run of more than three-and-a-half hours without a goal against their crosstown rivals.
Yeboah may have known little about his 81st-minute equaliser, as Simon Cox’s low drive flicked up off his boot to beat Sky Blues goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, but the Red and Black deserved to level the scores in a rivalry clash played in unique circumstances in Parramatta.
The encounter, billed as ‘The Lockout Derby’, was played behind closed doors while the coronavirus pandemic grips the world, but there was no lack of intensity as Steve Corica’s side avoided becoming the first ever Harbour City side to lose three straight fixtures between the neighbouring clubs.
It was Wanderers forcing the issue in the closing stages with Cox and substitute Mohamed Adam coming close to netting a winner. But the defending Champions held out to extend their impressive away run to eight matches unbeaten, six of them wins, as their march to Premiership glory is put on ice for another week.
Sydney FC advance to 48 points – seven points short of exceeding Wellington Phoenix’s best possible tally of 54 points – while Jean-Paul de Marigny’s eighth-placed outfit close the gap on the top six to a single point, but time is running out as sixth-placed Western United still hold a game in hand over the Wanderers.
Yeboah gives Sydney a scare mid-way through the first half
Shouts from the players echoed around an empty Bankwest Stadium as both sides cancelled each other out in a fast-paced opening 10 minutes, but the game sprung to life when Kwame Yeboah found space and Keanu Baccus fired the first attempt of the match way over Andrew Redmayne’s crossbar.
Steve Corica’s side were controlling the bigger share of possession, as they did in their two previous derby defeats, and their first opening came from Luke Brattan’s defence-splitting pass, only for Rhyan Grant to lose his footing, before Adam Le Fondre slammed a shot straight at Daniel Lopar in the Wanderers goal in the 15th minute.
Western Sydney showed their threat on the breakaway, the same approach which punished the Sky Blues twice before this season, and a swirling Yeboah fired a stinging drive just off target in the 19th minute. Then Sydney FC showed they were also capable of a quick counter moments later, as ex-Wanderer Alex Baumjohann threaded Le Fondre through on goal but the Englishman scuffed his shot under pressure.
Le Fondre nets a poacher's effort to finally beat Lopar
With the match descending into a high-intensity midfield battle, Jordan O’Doherty worked Redmayne with a firmly-hit free-kick on the half hour before the visitors made their moment count when Milos Ninkovic drove forward and cut through the Wanderers defence with a pass to Barbarouses.
The Kiwi frontman pulled a shot across the face of goal that Lopar could only parry and Le Fondre was on the mark, lurking at the far post, to slide in his 17th goal of the Hyundai A-League campaign. The close-range effort finally broke the Champions’ drought for the season against Western Sydney after more than three-and-a-half hours without a goal.
De Marigny's side looked for an immediate response, and almost caught a break when Redmayne slipped on a kick, but the Sky Blues gave the home side a reminder of their danger when Grant hit a rasping long-range drive which flashed across the face of Lopar's goal minutes before half-time.
Russell causes Sydney FC problems on the Wanderers' right
Wanderers were rejuvenated after the interval with Irish forward Simon Cox leading the charge and finding young full-back Tate Russell, but the 20-year-old's first cross could not find a Red and Black shirt and his second was beaten away by Redmayne on 55 minutes.
With the game opening up, Baumjohann delivered a dangerous free-kick across goal, which Mitchell Duke had to be alert to clear away, with both sides struggling to convert their attacking patterns into clear-cut chances.
The pressure was building as Daniel Georgevski took aim on 64 minutes, bending a 30-yard effort the safe side of Sydney FC's goal, as a Sky Blue wall continued to repel the Wanderers' advances.
Yeboah strikes in the final stages
Western Sydney became stretched at the back and spaces were emerging as Sydney FC substitute Harry Van der Saag slashed a chance from inside the penalty box wide, while a screaming Le Fondre made a run at the far post.
A sustained period of Western Sydney pressure saw substitute Nick Sullivan’s 78th-minute strike half-volley blocked and the loose ball marginally eluding the feet of Cox inside the visitors’ six yard box as the hosts became more frantic.
But their persistence finally paid off when another substitute, Bruce Kamau, injected some energy and his cross found Cox in the 81st minute. The Irish striker hammered a shot in off the static Yeboah's conveniently-angled foot.
Adam almost grabs a late winner
The equaliser may have been fortunate but it was reward for a spell of relentless attacking, and Western Sydney did not take their foot off the gas after drawing level.
More smart combination play down the Wanderers' right side resulted in Cox unleashing another thunderbolt in the 88th minute – an effort which flew straight at Redmayne from a tight angle – and one final opportunity would present itself to teenage forward Adam.
After a quick-fire, one-touch passing move, the 19-year-old shifted the ball onto his right foot and let fly with a deflected drive that skimmed wide of Sydney FC's goalpost as the Wanderers come close to a first ever seasonal clean sweep of Sydney Derby wins.