Another Brendon Santalab late show has given the Wanderers a hard-fought 2-1 victory over in-form Perth Glory ensuring the Red & Black stay on top-of-the-table for another week.
Santalab’s winner was needed after Romeo Castelen’s classy second-half opener was cancelled out instantly by an Andy Keogh penalty.
Two goals in two minutes looked to be the only strikes until the 85th minute in a deeply frustrating evening for the Red and Black, who sprung into life after an uncharacteristically sluggish first hour – much like the match itself.
But as he has done so often this campaign, Santalab came off the bench to net the winner to send the Wanderers three points clear at the top of the table.
Wanderers’ boss Tony Popovic made two changes from last week’s stalemate against Sydney FC with Alberto returning from a two-week suspension to partner Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the heart of defence, whilst Jaushua Sotirio replaced Romeo Castelen on the flank of the attacking quartet.
The match began with Perth exerting a lot of energy in pressing the Wanderers in possession and it was an approach that prevented the Red & Black from entering the attacking third with any menace.
The Wanderers dominated the ball and were camped outside the Glory box for most of the first 45 minutes but were kept at arm’s length by a hard-working and disciplined Perth defence that looked to prevent supply to midfielders Dimas and Andreu.
With the Wanderers’ Spanish orchestrators kept quiet the set-up from Kenny Lowe’s men worked a treat with several key decisions going the way of the visitors only adding to the frustration of both player and fan.
Marshalled by former Wanderer Ante Covic, the Glory rear-guard offered no passage to goal as they shielded their penalty box with relative ease.
In fact, it was the Glory themselves who created the better opportunities in the first half: none more so than when minutes before half-time, Chris Harold spurned a free-header after a typically precise delivery from Diego Castro.
But as the second stanza got underway chances became more clear-cut and it was the visitors who should have opened the scoring when Nebojsa Marinkovic blasted wide after a delightful piece of skill in the box.
The Wanderers lifted their intensity and came within millimetres of opening the scoring when Mitch Nichols pounced on Mark Bridge’s clever nod-on but Nichols’ side foot trickled agonisingly wide.
The breakthrough arrived with half an hour remaining, and it was a superbly taken finish from Romeo Castelen, who skinned Glory skipper Joshua Risdon on the left before cutting inside and unleashing an unstoppable curling shot past Covic and into the net.
The celebrations were short-lived with Perth going straight down the other end and winning a penalty, with the referee pointing to the spot after a collision between Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Chris Harold.
Glory front man Andrew Keogh made no mistake, waiting for Liam Reddy to move before coolly dispatching his fourth goal in his last five games into the back of the net.
But just when the Wanderers seemed destined for a second consecutive 1-1 draw, substitute Brendon Santalab latched onto a wonderful lobbed pass from Bridge and with Covic off his line, the super-sub looped the ball over the onrushing keeper and in.
It was a delightful finish and a fairy tale ending for the Ronald McDonald House Westmead Ambassador after the club had spent the evening promoting the good work of the house.
Up next for the Wanderers is a trip to Queensland on Friday to take on the second-placed Brisbane Roar. Kick-off is 8pm with coverage on SBS2 and Fox Sports 505.