Duke ‘didn’t want to celebrate’ against the Mariners

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You can forgive Mitchell Duke for struggling to stifle his celebrations after bagging a vital brace in Western Sydney Wanderers’ 2-1 comeback victory over his former club Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night.

Flashback to July and a day after being voted the new Wanderers captain the Socceroo went down early in a friendly against Gold Coast Knights, causing fears that he had suffered a potentially season-ending knee injury.

He was later cleared of any ACL damage and almost two months of tough rehabilitation saw the skipper recover in time to heroically lead out his side in round one.

The striker well and truly led from the front by equalising with a text-book set-piece header after 41 minutes before holding his nerve after a lengthy VAR delay to seal all three points from the spot with less than ten to play.

“I was always confident I was going to hit the net,” Duke said.

“That was my first 90 minutes in 10 weeks and first competitive game for a very long time. It was hard mentally and physically to prepare and I felt at 60 minutes I was very much underdone.

“But it was good to lead the boys out and help them get the three points so hopefully we can keep that going.”

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Duke admitted that he was emotionally torn playing against his first professional club whom he made 66 appearances for over five seasons.

“It was hard to completely hold myself in when I scored the goals, but I have a lot of respect for Central Coast Mariners.

“I had a lot of success there and they helped me traject my professional career to overseas.

“I didn’t want to celebrate but gave it a sneaky little fist-pump for the first goal.”

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Wanderers boss Markus Babbel lauded a true captain’s performance from his front-man despite the fact that he is still “not 100%”.

“Before the injury he (Duke) wasn’t in top shape and after the break he had to work hard to find those performances again,” he said.

“He wasn’t happy last week after the West Melbourne game because he knows he can be better, but I said to him ‘don’t worry, give it time and it will get better.’

“The boys wanted him as captain, and they had some reasons for that.

“He’s always on the pitch fighting, giving everything and this is exactly what the boys need.”

Following their tight opening day triumph the focus of Duke and the Red and Black shift to next Friday’s away clash with Melbourne Victory before they return home to Bankwest Stadium in the highly-anticipated Round 3 Sydney Derby.

Feature Image Credit: Steve Christo

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Chris Curulli
Passionate Sports Media student and all round football obsessive, covering the Western Sydney Wanderers for the 2019/20 season.