Ten-man Wanderers too good for Heart
Even a 10-man Western Sydney proved too strong for Melbourne Heart as the A-League newcomers continued their remarkable rise with a 1-0 victory on Saturday night.
Despite having defender Jerome Polenz sent off in the 13th minute, the Wanderers were totally dominant in front of 14,624 fans at Parramatta Stadium.
Shinji Ono's 73rd-minute penalty secured the win, after Josip Tadic earlier had a spot kicked saved following Polenz's sending off.
The win was Western Sydney's third straight and they climb into third place, ahead of Adelaide United on goal difference.
The Heart were left to rue a big opportunity to boost their finals hopes after Polenz's early exit, and the defeat leaves them in danger of dropping out of the top six.
Referee Strebre Delovski showed no hesitation in brandishing a red card early after David Williams had broken on goal before being clattered from behind by right back Polenz.
Tadic stepped up for the resulting penalty but couldn't convert it, with Ante Covic swatting his shot away with relative ease.
Midfielder Aaron Mooy was sacrificed for Lacopa La Rocca in a tactical switch and the Wanderers remained the more dangerous side.
Mark Bridge, Dino Kresinger and Ono all forced decent saves out of Andrew Redmayne while Nicholas Kalmar came closest for the visitors with a long-range drive in the 34th minute.
As Australia Day fireworks exploded around the stadium, the tempo of the game slowed early the second half as the Heart started to grow into the game.
But Western Sydney regained the ascendancy and finally got their breakthrough when Youssouf Hersi - who had caused havoc in attack all night - was brought down in the box by David Vrankovic.
Ono stepped up and buried the penalty for his fifth goal of the season.
Tadic had a late chance for redemption but was denied by a great Covic stop.
In a positive for the Heart, former Socceroos midfielder Vince Grella made his long-awaited return from injury off the bench in the 67th minute, his first appearance since last playing for Blackburn in September, 2011.
Striker Eli Babalj also came on, having returned to the club on after being released by Serbian club Red Star Belgrade.
Wanderers coach Tony Popovic felt the way his side reacted to going a man down showed how much it had matured.
"That's another first for us. The boys have shown that down to 10 men, they're not just going gung-ho. They're playing with structure and playing with belief and confidence," Popovic said.
"You could see at halftime in the change room, they really believed they could win the game. It wasn't just hope."
The coach feared at one stage the Wanderers may not get a reward for their dominance.
"But I certainly would have been proud after the game whether we won or lost that one," Popovic said.
Heart coach John Aloisi was at a loss to explain his side's flat performance.
"We weren't good. The penalty incident I don't think would have changed much," Aloisi said.
"They were better than us ... which is disappointing because 10 against 11, you expect it to be the other way around.
"We can't be performing like that, it's just not good enough."