Wanderers coach Tony Popovic admitted his club’s second straight A-League grand final defeat was more heart-breaking than their first.
The first one hurt, but not like this.
Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic on Sunday night admitted his club’s second straight A-League grand final defeat was more heart-breaking than the upset loss in their debut season.
Popovic cut a desolate figure after Brisbane Roar’s 2-1 extra-time triumph at Suncorp Stadium, stealing a match that the visitors had in their keeping with five minutes to play.
Unlike last year’s 2-0 defeat to Central Coast, the Wanderers – who took the lead with a Matthew Spiranovic header in the 56th minute – were the better side for a large part of the captivating and tense decider.
“I feel worse this year personally because I felt last year we weren’t good enough, but I thought this year that we were,” Popovic said.
“I thought that today we dominated, right up until the (final) goal.
“It’s tough one … but I’m very proud of the group this year.”
The Wanderers were left to rue a knee injury to skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley and a golden missed chance to Labinot Haliti in extra time.
Topor-Stanley, who took the arm-band with Michael Beauchamp a noticeable omission, suffered a suspected medial ligament tear in tackling Besart Berisha just after Spiranovic’s goal.
With no Beauchamp, or any other defender on the bench, Western Sydney’s most influential player Iacopo La Rocca was forced from the midfield into the backline.
“It just changed things, just changed the dynamic of the game,” Popovic said. “I thought La Rocca controlled things in the midfield.
“It kind of gave them the ascendancy after that goal.”
Topor-Stanley will now undergo scans but is no chance of playing their round of 16 Asian Champions League match in Japan on Wednesday night.
Berisha’s late equaliser always meant the fresher Roar had the inside running for victory but Haliti wasted a gilt-edged opportunity seven minutes into extra-time.
Instead, it was Henrique who was the Roar’s super-sub again, scoring his second extra-time goal in his third grand final.
“There was going to be one moment in extra-time to win the match,” Popovic said. “I thought we had that moment.
“That certainly would have changed everything.”
The Wanderers fans, who marched en mass from nearby Caxton Street to the ground, were smaller in number at 10,000 but still louder in voice than the Orange Army and chanted right down to the final whistle.
“It’s disappointing for them to go home like that again,” Popovic said.