Brendon Santalab scored twice in only his second start of the season as Western Sydney Wanderers eased to a commanding 4-1 win at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night.
Despite conceding a soft equaliser midway through the first half, Tony Popovic’s side dominated from start to finish as Santalab struck either side of half-time.
Romeo Castelen’s terrific early opener was cancelled out by a Luis Garcia header but Santalab’s second and a 10th of the season for Mitch Nichols temporarily move the hosts into top spot.
1-0 Romeo Castelen (8’) – Wanderers’ electric winger capped an utterly dominant opening period with a stunning strike, receiving from possession from the left and lashing an unstoppable shot into the top left corner.
1-1 Luis Garcia (21’) – An equaliser almost out of nowhere. Mitch Austin delivered a rare right-footed cross of exceptional quality, inviting the dimunitive Garcia to stoop and guide his header across Andrew Redmayne.
2-1 Brendon Santalab (36’) – Adam Pearce did well to deny Castelen a second after the Dutchman breezed through the heart of the Mariners defence, but the rebound fell kindly for Santalab to finish into an empty net.
3-1 Brendon Santalab (52’) – The hosts recycled possession out to the right where Scott Neville stroked an inch-perfect cross to the far post for Santalab to nod home.
4-1 Mitch Nichols (83’) – Mark Bridge might have performed all the lead-up work in twisting and turning away from Jacob McGing, but Nichols thoroughly deserved his goal in charging on to the follow-up.
Had they managed to stretch the second half to 15 or 20 scoreless minutes, the Mariners would have played their part in heightening tension at Pirtek Stadium.
However, Mitch Austin’s decision to dribble deep in his own half created the opportunity for a second phase Wanderers attack and led to the hosts going two clear within seven minutes of the restart.
Romeo Castelen kicked off his side’s final night at the pre-development Pirtek Stadium with a thunderous opening goal. The Dutchman sized up the time and space afforded to him and flushed a fierce effort into the top corner.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Josh Rose shifted from central-defence one week to left-wing the next as Tony Walmsley rejigged his midfield, only to concede 68 per cent of possession by half-time and four goals at the final whistle.
It wasn’t the fault of any single individual, but the simplicity with which the Wanderers controlled the midfield – especially early – must be addressed for the F3 Derby and into next season.
THE FINAL WORD
Western Sydney have set the pace for the final sprint to top spot.
While their enjoyment of first won’t last the weekend, Tony Popovic’s men have at least given themselves a chance of claiming a second Premiers’ Plate.
Next weekend’s trip to Wellington will be a better test of their Finals Series potential as the Mariners, who end the season with an F3 Derby at home to Newcastle, have plenty of improving to do across the pitch.