Late Santalab stunner denies Victory

Substitute Brendon Santalab was the hero as Western Sydney Wanderers returned to top spot after a drama-filled 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.

Santalab cancelled out Besart Berisha’s opener in the 16th minute to ensure the Wanderers retained top spot on the Hyundai A-League table for at least another week.

The highly entertaining match ended on a sour note as players engaged in a goal-line melee, with Wanderers defender Alberto sent off with just a few minutes to play.

Both teams also endured injury troubles from the often spiteful encounter, with Andreu, Mitch Nichols, Matthieu Delpierre and Gui Finkler among the casualties.

GOALS

1-0 Besart Berisha (16’) – The Albanian international scored his 14th goal of the season when he headed home teammate Kosta Barbarouses’s pinpoint corner kick. Berisha contacted the ball at the near-post, splitting it between Wanderers goalkeeper Aaron Redmayne and Dimas, who bizarrely stuck his left arm out and almost committed a fatal handball on the goal line.

1-1 Brendon Santalab (89’) – Western Sydney’s supersub delivered the equaliser with one minute of regulation time left on the clock. Santalab claimed possession, ran around a defender and fired from just outside the box into the top right corner past the outstretched hands of Victory goalkeeper Danny Vukovic.

KEY MOMENT

Western Sydney almost found a winner deep in injury time, but a quick-thinking Vukovic dived at the feet of Nikolai Topor-Stanley and knocked the ball out for a corner. For some reason, the save sparked a goal-line scuffle which resulted in Alberto being shown a straight red card. Victory’s Daniel Georgievski was also booked after players were separated.

OPTA DATA KEY STATS

Victory remains undefeated in their last four matches at home against Western Sydney, a streatk dating back almost three years. Kevin Muscat’s side are also yet to be beaten in their last 10 home matches.

HIGHLIGHTS REEL

Vukovic produced one of the saves of the season to deny Dario Vidosic from equalising in the 35th minute. Vidosic latched on to a free kick, forcing Vukovic to make a low diving save to his right, strategically knocking the ball around the post to prevent Topor-Stanley from converting the deflection.

Redmayne put his body on the line earlier in the first half when he came out to meet a fast-moving Berisha. The Wanderers stopper narrowly avoided a brutal collision with Berisha, who had scored only moments earlier. Socceroos great Mark Bosnich described it as one of the most courageous acts he had ever seen from a fellow goalkeeper.

TREATMENT TABLE

Victory defender Matthieu Delpierre twisted his left knee attempted to stop a rampaging run from Romeo Castalen on the cusp of half-time. The Frenchman was helped from the pitch by club medical staff and appeared unlikely to continue, but he emerged from the tunnel for the start of the second half with heavy strapping over his injury.

Gui Finkler trudged off Etihad Stadium in obvious pain just past the hour mark after injuring his right shoulder. The Brazilian appeared to land awkwardly after being knocked off his feet minutes earlier by Dimas.

Wanderers midfielder Andreu decided after 24 minutes he could no longer continue, having failed to shrug off a hamstring complaint he took into the match, and was replaced by Kearyn Baccus.

Mitch Nichols sent a scare through the Western Sydney camp in the 7th minute when he rolled his right ankle on a piece of the turf which had been recently replaced, but the key attacker pushed through the pain until he was substituted for Brendon Santalab with 16 minutes before full-time.

FINAL WORD

Victory coach Kevin Muscat will be furious that his side let slip another chance to move up the ladder. The home side was ahead for 73 minutes before conceding the equaliser with just one minute remaining in regulation time. Next Saturday’s derby with cross-town rivals and fellow title contenders Melbourne City looms a crucial battle.

The Wanderers dominated all the key areas, including possession and shots on target, and as a result forced their way back into the match. Santalab’s late equaliser ensured Tony Popovic’s men retained pole position on the table. However, injuries and suspensions could pose a hurdle for the Wanderers next Sunday against the struggling Wellington Phoenix at Pirtek Stadium.

TEAMS

Melbourne Victory: 1.Danny VUKOVIC (GK), 2.Jason GERIA, 3.Scott GALLOWAY (5.Daniel GEORGIEVSKI 60’), 4.Nick ANSELL, 6.Leigh BROXHAM (C), 7.Gui FINKLER (22.Jesse MAKAROUNAS 63’), 8.Besart BERISHA, 9.Kosta BARBAROUSES, 11.Connor PAIN (23.Jai INGHAM 70’), 13.Oliver BOZANIC, 17.Matthieu DELPIERRE

Western Sydney Wanderers: 3.Scott JAMIESON, 4.Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY, 6.Mitch NICHOLS (11.Brendon SANTALAB 74’), 7.Romeo CASTELEN (16.Jaushua SOTIRIO 84’), 8.DIMAS, 10.Dario VIDOSIC, 12.Scott NEVILLE, 17.ALBERTO, 18.ANDREU (15. Kearyn BACCUS 24’), 19.Mark BRIDGE, 20.Andrew REDMAYNE (GK)

Scorers: Besart Berisha (16’), Brendon Santalab (89’)

Red cards: Alberto (90’+3)

Yellow cards: Scott Jamieson (29’), Connor Pain (30’), Scott Neville (31’), Nikolai Topor-Stanley (41’), Dimas (56’), Jason Geria (66’), Jai Ingham (71’), Jesse Makarounas (90’+1), Daniel Georgievski (90’+3)

Conditions: 31C, clear

Attendance: 25,445 at Etihad Stadium