AAP Soccer

Duke double earns Wanderers A-League win

By AAP Newswire

Western Sydney profited from a gamble by coach Markus Babbel and a late VAR decision, as captain Mitchell Duke bagged a double in Saturday's 2-1 opening-round A-League home win over Central Coast.

Former Mariner Duke blasted home a decisive 82nd-minute penalty, which was taken around four minutes after the incident.

Highly regarded Iranian referee Alireza Faghani, officiating his first A-League game since moving to Australia, ultimately awarded the penalty for a Dylan Fox hand ball, after reviewing the incident following a break in play.

A crowd of 17,091 attended the Wanderers' first A-League game in more than three years at their rebuilt stadium.

Duke headed a 41st-minute equaliser from a Pirmin Schwegler corner, five minutes after Mariners A-League debutant Milan Duric gave the visitors the lead with a fierce, deflected 20-metre drive.

The Mariners had more possession and built up well from the back, but struggled to hit the target in the first half.

Western Sydney had more shots on goal before halftime, but the visitors created some good opportunities after the break, with the Wanderers' Swiss goalkeeper Daniel Lopar pulling off some crucial saves.

As was the case in Friday's opening match of the season between Adelaide United and Sydney FC, the time taken through VAR intervention to make decisions was topical.

"It took a long time," Babbel said.

"I think it was hand ball - I saw it on the big screen. For me, it was clear it was a penalty."

Mariners counterpart Alen Stajcic wasn't convinced and felt it would take time for everyone to get used to the new interpretation of hand ball.

"I don't know if it was a hand ball. I saw it deflect off our player so it can't be intentional," Stajcic said.

"I don't know how that's intentional when it deflects off a guy from one yard away at that speed."

Stajcic felt his team deserved something out of the match and Babbel admitted it was a "50-50 game".

Hard-running Duke, who missed almost two months of the pre-season, inspired a Wanderers team, which Babbel stressed included several underdone players, who he decided to use despite not being fully fit.

"I'm very happy for the boys that they had the good luck on their side because they were fighting," Babbel said.

"Because many players ... Matt Jurman, Mitch, Dylan (McGowan), Alex Meier, they all came late or were injured.

"If you're not fully fit but you have to play, then it's not easy."

He expected Tarek Elrich to miss two to four weeks after coming off early with a hamstring injury.