Western United produced a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers to send a message to the contenders in the A-League at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday night.
It was a case of home sweet home for United, who celebrated victory on home soil for the first time with their previous two wins coming on the road.
United coach Mark Rudan was impressed with the brand of football displayed by his team on a chilly night in Geelong, but also delighted with the never-say-die attitude of the players, who won after trailing for the second consecutive week.
“It was a big win and thoroughly deserved, I must say,” Rudan said.
“We’ve done it again, showed true test of character, once again resilience and once again we stayed true to our principles of play.
“I thought it was a much more comprehensive performance [compared to last week] and we thoroughly deserved to win tonight against a side that was top of the table before the round started, so really pleased with them.”
Western United thrived in a back-to-the-wall situation again.
Another slow start for United saw them trailing after a Mitchell Duke goal five minutes in.
The slow starts for United have been a source of frustration for Rudan, who admits it is a concern.
Another speed bump for Western United was a hamstring injury to experienced playmaker Panagiotis Kone.
The severity of Kone’s injury is to be revealed, but he will be a big loss to the team.
“Hard to say at the moment,” Rudan said.
“It’s a hamstring and we’re always very cautious.”
In between Duke’s goal for Western Sydney and Kone’s injury, Western United found an equaliser through an unlikely source.
United central defender Andrew Durante rose at the far post to score a crisply timed goal with a header from a delightful Alessandro Diamanti corner in the 13th minute.
It was a rare goal for Durante – his first in five years in the A-League.
“I didn’t even know the last time I scored a goal,” Durante said.
“It’s great to not only get on the scoresheet, but to level the game for the team was fantastic.”
With Kone off, Western United had to go to plan B.
Rudan re-shuffled his line-up, moving Connor Chapman to defensive midfield and bringing on Aaron Calver to play in defence.
Both moves worked a treat as United took a stranglehold over the game.
Chapman impressed with his ability to both defend assertively and apply a quick counter.
His transition into the midfield after playing the first month of the season as a defender was seamless.
“We work hard on all our players to play one or two different positions and they’re very clear on their roles and responsibilities,” Rudan said.
“It’s a lot of work that we put into them.
“It was quite seamless and I thought Connor Chapman did well in that position.
“It was good for Aaron Calver to get some game time.
“I thought he produced some really good moments and some other ones that could be better, but he’ll be much better for that run.”
Western United’s winning goal came in the 58th minute through Kwabena Appiah-Kubi.
United defender Ersan Gulum scuffed his shot, but it turned into an assist when Appiah-Kubi gathered the ball, turned and powered his shot past Wanderers goalkeeper Daniel Lopar.
Appiah-Kubi arrived at United on a short term contract as an injury replacement for Valentino Yuel and the speedy striker has impressed.
“He’s come in on a short term contract and he’s worked extremely hard, fantastic attitude and there’s a lot of extras always asked of him after every session and he got his due rewards,” Rudan said.
“It’s a good message to everyone else out there, if you continue to work on your game to improve it that you can get rewarded for it and he ends up scoring the winner.
“He thoroughly deserved that moment.”
Josh Risdon was superb on the right side for Western United, while Connor Pain worked hard on the left.
Scott McDonald continued his strong form and was unlucky not to be awarded a goal when the ball appeared to cross the line.
Western United has a headache at the selection table ahead of Saturday night’s clash with Newcastle Jets at GMHBA Stadium.
Besart Berisha is likely to return to the line-up after he was rested for the Wanderers game, but will Appiah-Kubi return to the bench after a strong outing?