By Lance Jenkinson
Western United has travelled across the ditch to claim its first ever points in the Hyundai A-League.
In their debut game, United conquered Wellington Phoenix 1-0 in an arm wrestle at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Sunday.
Big name signing Besart Berisha, acquired only two weeks before the start of the season, scored United’s historic first goal in the 34th minute, which was the winning goal of the game.
It was no shock to see Berisha on the scoresheet first, considering he is the top goalscorer in league history.
Western United had the kick-off to start the game and settled into an early groove.
United dominated on the ball with Dario Jertec and Panagiotis Kone controlling proceedings from the centre of the park.
Jertec, a former Croatia under-21 international, was the most influential player on the park in the first half.
Most of United’s positive attacks went through the 34-year-old Jertec, including the goal.
Jertec unlocked the defence, playing a ball into the feet of left winger Connor Pain, allowing Pain to get in behind the defence.
Pain found just enough space to put in a cross, which sailed over the crowd of players in the box and to the back post for United teammate Josh Risdon.
With a neat first touch, Risdon re-directed the ball low and hard into the mixer to find Berisha, who instinctively guided it home with the inside of his right boot.
It was a history-making moment that gave United its first lead.
The lead was only possible because of United goalkeeper Filip Kurto, who moments earlier pulled off a superb diving save to deny a sweetly timed long range strike from Wellington’s Liberato Cacace.
It was a save to savour for Kurto, a former Phoenix player who was subjected to jeers all game from the home crowd.
Alessandro Diamanti made an impressive debut in the Western United captain’s arm band.
Diamanti was a constant handful for the Wellington defence.
The former Italian international added a touch of class to the United front third.
While Diamanti and Berisha were hard-working on the front line, Western United had its fair share of defending to do.
In that respect, Andrew Durante, another former Phoenix player copping a few boos, Ersan Gulum and Connor Chapman stood firm.
Durante was absolutely superb in the heart of the defence, detonating countless Phoenix forays forward and kick-starting United from the back. Western United deserved its one goal lead at the break. The second half had a different complexion to it, though. Wellington seemed to grow in confidence and played with more attacking flair.
While the Phoenix was on the front foot, Kurto was not tested as much as the hosts would have liked.
The Phoenix’s best chance came through a rare indirect free kick late in the second half.
The chance sailed over the crossbar and out of harms way for United. Holding a fragile one goal lead after 90 minutes, Western United still had plenty of work to do with the referee adding on seven minutes of stoppage time.
A head clash which drew blood from Jertec added even more time on top of that stoppage time, so the game went beyond 100 minutes.
With some fresh legs in substitutes Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Kwabena Appiah-Kubi and Max Burgess, United saw off the threat.
Scott McDonald was the pick of the United players in the second half.
The former Socceroo was able to hold the ball up for his side under pressure and be the cool head required in a tight game.
When the full-time whistle finally came, United coach Mark Rudan was smiling like a Cheshire cat, hugging his support staff and players in celebration.
Now Western United will turn its attention to picking up its first points on Australian soil.
United will play its home opener against Perth Glory at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong on Saturday at 5pm.