Santa flies into Parra late

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 21
7:40pm, Friday 26th February 2016  – Parramatta Stadium

Western Sydney Wanderers FC 2 (Romeo Castelen 62′, Brendon Santalab 85′)
Perth Glory FC 1 (Andy Keogh 63′ pen)


Western Sydney Wanderers once again needed to look to their bench and to the remarkable striking skills of perennial substitute, Brendon Santalab, to rescue their highly-charged game against Perth Glory at Parramatta Stadium on Friday night.

Glory, in top form of late, were more than a match for the home team and with an ounce of better luck and certainly some better finishing, could well have won this match against a successful side that continues to lead the competition, in what is becoming a thrilling finish to the current season.

Winning 2-1 here, they established a three-point lead over their nearest rivals, who continue to chop and change as their fellow top-six contenders continue to take points from one another.

Now it’s Adelaide United who’ve rocketed up to second, with previous joint-leaders, Brisbane Roar, stuttering and Melbourne City shocked by a loss in Wellington.

The Wanderers had to deal with the loss of a key player, after only twelve minutes, when Dario Vidosic fell awkwardly with Glory defender, Marc Warren, chasing him hard down the right flank, after being caught out and then winning the ball back with a heavy challenge.

Vidosic couldn’t get up and had to be replaced by star winger Romeo Castelen, who’d been given a breather, initially, after some outstanding performances this season, following his late return from injury.

Probably trying to protect one of his major assets and having some quality players to call upon, Wanderers’ coach, Tony Popovic, had little option than to bring the Dutchman on unexpectedly early, but the team was to lose nothing from the enforced change.

As usual Castelen was a real handful for the opposition and despite a tendency to profligacy in front of goal, he’s always been a reliable and highly effective provider.

He finally found the net, after some near misses in recent games, albeit off the inside of the right-hand upright, this time, when he latched onto a ball supplied to him by Mitch Nichols, who, in turn, had received the ball from Mark Bridge in a fast move that had begun on the right in the 62nd minute.

Castelen, wider out on the left, 15 yards from goal, looked up and struck powerfully with a first-time shot that flew into the net off the woodwork, though there was nothing fortuitous about the goal. It was a very powerful and solid strike.

The game had seen chances at both ends before that and Castelen had again failed to find the target when well-placed, which he was to repeat later in proceedings, but it was the Perth Glory front-men who made a bigger hash of the majority of the chances in this free-flowing game.

They had Andy Keogh looking sharp, with Chris Harold and Diego Castro in support and that triumvirate fully tested the Wanderers’ defence, back to full-strength with the return of Spanish centre-back, Alberto, alongside Nicolai Topor Stanley.

But it was recently-introduced goalkeeper, Liam Reddy, who’d been given his first game against Sydney FC, who proved the biggest hurdle for Glory to overcome, apart, that is, from their own striking foibles.

Reddy was at his best again and has given the Wanderers just that little bit more assuredness behind a very strong backline.

Perth Glory had been playing well enough to look the likely winners before suddenly falling behind, so it should have come as no surprise that they fought back immediately after conceding, to score an equaliser.

Chris Harold burst clear with the Wanderers’ defence having switched off momentarily, forcing a clearly-beaten Topor-Stanley to bring the speedy winger down in the penalty-area a matter of little more than a minute after the home side had hit the front.

Keogh put away the penalty-kick with consummate ease.

In a ding-dong remaining half hour of the second-half, either side could have snatched it, but Popovic wasn’t going to leave it too late to bring on his prized poacher, Santalab.

He called for him right after Glory had levelled the scores, taking off the industrious Jaushua Sotirio, who’d been able to offer little in the way of real penetration.

Glory were beginning to look the more likely winners as the minutes ticked away, even though Nichols, who’d fired just wide almost at the start of the game, did much the same again late in proceedings.

It needed a piece of sheer improvisation from Santalab to beat former Wanderers’ hero and goalkeeper, Ante Covic, in the 85th minute.

A contested high ball, eight yards out, initially provided by an alert Mark Bridge, had Warren challenging for Perth, with Covic racing out to try and intervene, but Santalab, displaying athleticism seldom seen in a 33 year old striker, stretched his leg high to connect with the ball before Warren could, sending it looping over the stranded Covic and into an unguarded net.

It was a typical striker’s goal, the instincts of a predator shown in fine relief, while all Perth Glory could do was bemoan their misfortune.

Post-match, Glory coach, Kenny Lowe, never short of a pithy comment or two, was unimpressed by Santalab’s initiative.

“Anywhere else on the pitch that’s a free-kick to the defending team for high feet,” he complained.

Unfortunately for Glory, referee Srebre Delovski didn’t see anything objectionable in the winning goal.

Three very valuable points for the Wanderers, then, in what is becoming one of the tightest contests yet for the top-spot and indeed for the top-six.

Glory could have edged into the six had they won this, but remain one point outside those finals’ places.

They looked the goods here and could prove the testing material for the likes of Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory, two teams they’ve already beaten,  in the race to the Finals

Wanderers will hope to have Vidosic back and that they can convert more of their chances without needing to rely on the rescue services of Santalab all the time.

He has scored the winner in three of their last six matches off the bench and the equaliser in similar circumstances in a fourth.

Match details

Crowd:  12.639

Western Sydney Wanderers FC (gk): 30 Liam REDDY (gk); 12. Scott NEVILLE,  4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (c), 17 Alberto AGUILAR, 22.  3. Scott JAMIESON;  8. Dimas DELGADO, 18. ANDREU;  6. Mitch NICHOLS; 16. Jaushua SOTIRIO (11. Brendon SANTALAB 63), 19. Mark BRIDGE, 10. Dario VIDOSIC (7 Romeo CASTELEN 12)
Subs Not Used: 20.Andrew REDMAYNE (rgk),  2 Shannon COLE
Yellow cards: Jaushua Sotirio 20, Mitch Nichols 82, Alberto Aguilar 90+1, Brendon Santalab 90 +3);
Red cards: Nil

PERTH GLORY FC: 1. Ante COVIC (gk);  19. Josh RISDON, 4 Shane LOWRY, 2. Alex GRANT, 3. Marc WARREN; 23 Krisztian VADOCZ (18 Mitch OXBORROW 83); 10. Nebojsa MARINKOVIC,  7 Gyorgy SANDOR (21 Kosta PETRATOS 88); 14 Chris HAROLD (11. Richard GARCIA 74), 17 Diego CASTRO, 9 Andy KEOGH
Subs not used: 12. Jerrad TYSON (rgk), 13 Diogo FERREIRA
Yellow cards: Marc Warren 69, Mitchell Oxborrow 90+2; Red cards: Nil

Referee: Srebre Delovski
Assistants: James Tesoriero and Andrej Giev; Fourth Official: Luke Withell

Points and ratings

Player points:
3. Dimas Delgado (WSW)
2. Diego Castro  (PG)
1. Alberto Aguilar  (WSW)

Referee:  7/10
Match  8/10
Pitch 8/10