IN the end nobody lost, but the 14th Sydney derby was one that neither side deserved to win.
A goalless draw at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night gave Western Sydney the satisfaction of slowing its rival's charge towards the Premier's Plate, and extended the home side's lead at the top to five points, but the grittiness of the game was one for only the true believers to really enjoy.
The Wanderers could have had even more to celebrate, denied a clear penalty for handball in the first half, but the deadlock never looked like being broken, for all the entreaties of the 40,193 crowd.
"I'm getting sick of talking about it - it was a penalty and it doesn't get clearer than that,” said Tony Popovic of Michael Zullo's handball.
"Teams are getting affected every week (by refereeing decisions). It's a tight game, a derby, and that changes the game. Unfortunately we're seeing far too much of it and it's happening to us quite regularly.”
Sydney had begun with the drive and swagger of a side keen to restore its seven-point lead at the top of the table, creating a succession of early chances, but coach Graham Arnold admitted its attacking threat was short of its normal level.
"It was a good derby, a lot of passion and fight from two teams who played well,” he said.
"Give credit to the Wanderers, they made it hard for us, but our execution let us down. Our defence was fantastic, and Aaron Calver was outstanding.”
Both coaches were right, in that Western Sydney should have had a penalty, while Sydney's attack was poor by its recent exalted standards.
Despite Sydney's bright start only Alex Wilkinson seriously tested Vedran Janjetovic in the Wanderers goal, saving a header to settle his nerves amid the boos and catcalls that his return to Sydney FC in enemy colours had sparked.
That save seemed to settle the whole visiting side, and they began to assert pressure the other way.
Wilkinson was penalised for handball outside his own box, and from the resultant free-kick, Nicolas Martinez's shot struck the arm of Michael Zullo, well inside the Sydney box. This time, to Western Sydney's incredulity, there was no whistle.
If anything it seemed to prompt both sides to bunker down for a derby of the arm-wrestle variety, both teams compacting without the ball and killing space.
On the bench sat wingers like Bernie Ibini, David Carney and Jumpei Kusukami, but on the pitch the flanks were sparsely populated.
Occasionally there was the flash of a chance - Martinez's run opened space for Mitch Nichols to cross and Lachlan Scott to head goalwards, only for Danny Vukovic to clutch the ball from the air.
Jaushua Sotirio shot powerfully over, then Ninkovic - so much more quiet than of late - played a one-two with Rhyan Grant, but the full-back's cross was volleyed wide by Bobo.
Then the Brazilian, looking off the pace all night, laboured into the box to receive another pass from Grant but his shot was too weak to trouble Janjetovic.
Finally the wingers were introduced - first Jumpei, then Ibini and Carney, but it was Martinez who produced a marvellous turn and pass to send Sotirio into the box.
Vukovic sprinted from his line, pawed the ball away from the winger, then leapt to his feet to block a follow-up shot.
Meanwhile, a goal from former Central Coast midfielder Michael McGlinchey was enough to give Wellington Phoenix a 1-0 win over the Mariners at a wet and windy Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
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