|By JOHN GRECO
The Western Sydney Wanderers will have to wait a little longer to get their hands on the Premiers' Plate after playing out a 1-1 draw with Sydney FC at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night.
In a pulsating derby played in front of almost 20,000 fans, both sides finished with 10-men after straight red cards to Sydney skipper Brett Emerton and Wanderers defender Iacoppo La Rocca.
The Sky Blues looked on course for a huge upset when another expert finish from Alessandro Del Piero gave the visitors a 1-0 lead at the break.
But the contest took a turn towards the Wanderers 10 minutes after the re-start when Emerton was shown a straight red for a lunging tackle on Shannon Cole.
And the home side made their numerical advantage count, with Shannon Cole coming back to haunt his former club with a stunning free-kick to share the spoils.
The result not only snaps the Wanderers' wonderful 10-game winning streak but also means their minor premiership celebrations have to be put on hold.
Tony Popovic's side are still in the box seat to claim the silverware and will secure it with a draw in their final game against Newcastle next weekend or if Central Coast fail to beat Adelaide on Sunday.
A draw for Sydney keeps them in fifth position but their finals fate will be sealed in a do-or-die clash away to Brisbane Roar on Thursday night.
The Wanderers night was soured at the death when La Rocca was dismissed for an elbow to the head of Terry Antonis
Western Sydney lost skipper Michael Beauchamp before kick-off with a quad strain and then not surprisingly it was a cautious and nervy start to the match from both sides.
It took almost 20 minutes for the shot on target, with Del Piero testing out Ante Covic with a free-kick which the keeper could only parry over the bar.
The Italian's next contribution 11 minutes before the break was more clinical.
But he owed a lot to the normally water-tight Wanderers defence, with stand-in skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley's misplaced pass deep in his own half gifting Del Piero possession.
The former Juventus star shimmied past La Rocca before beating Covic with a low, left-foot drive to the far post.
It was Del Piero's 13th goal of the season and sent the small but vocal band of Sky Blues supporters into raptures.
The home side had two chances to equalise before the break but on both occasions Sydney goal-keeper Ivan Necevski denied Mark Bridge was excellent saves.
Lucas Neill didn't return after half-time due to injury and he was soon joined in the sheds by Emerton.
The Australian midfielder mistimed his challenge on Cole, with referee Kris Griffiths-Jones ruling his lunging challenge was worthy of a straight red.
The Wanderers began to take control of the match now and hit back 21 minutes from time through a stunning strike from former Sydney defender Cole.
After Dino Kresinger won a free kick just outside the box, Cole stepped and sent a curling right-foot shot around the wall and past a despairing Necevski into the corner of the net.
The home side pushed forward for a winner with Kresinger and Labinot Haliti both going close but the Sky Blues also could have pinched it at the death as Joel Chianese's goal-bound shot was blocked on the line and cleared to safety.