Perth Glory restated their A-League title credentials in convincing fashion on Friday night, holding off fellow challengers Melbourne Victory to win 2-1 away from home.
First-half goals from Andy Keogh and Chris Harold sealed an important triumph for Kenny Lowe's men, who survived conceding a penalty after the break to extend their lead to seven points at the top of the table with one round remaining before the break for the AFC Asian Cup.
It was just a second defeat of the league season for Victory, who came within inches of equalising when Archie Thompson's header hit the crossbar with 16 minutes remaining.
Kevin Muscat's side, missing several key players through injury and international duty, will surely stay firmly in the hunt for silverware despite this setback.
Michael Thwaite of Perth Glory pats Besart Berisha of Melbourne Victory on the back after he missed a goal. Photo: Darrian Traynor (Getty)
What They Said
"It's another three points, that's all we're aiming for each week. We're not looking too far ahead or getting ahead of ourselves.
"We probably see Victory and Adelaide as our two biggest threats right now so it's great to come here and beat them down in Melbourne." Perth Glory midfielder Ruben Zadkovich
"Well done to Perth, I think they deserved (it). Our way we play, I thought we played okay, we had a couple of chances in the first half, but like you say very hot conditions.
"I think in the end Perth deserved to win. I think we competed really well, sometimes it doesn't work and today was not really our day." Melbourne Victory striker Besart Berisha
0-1 (Andy Keogh 9')
The opening goal started with a great piece of skill from the much-maligned Ruben Zadkovich, whose propensity for indiscipline has reduced him to a figure of fun since moving to Perth.
This time the former Newcastle Jet caught the eye for the right reasons, performing a neat roulette to beat two men and feed Nebojsa Marinkovic, fit-again and restored to the Glory starting XI after being badly missed away to Melbourne City on Boxing Day.
Victory centre-back Adrian Leijer, a product of the Surf Coast and playing in front of his adoring public, allowed the Serbian's careful ball forward to bounce and was then comprehensively outmuscled by Keogh, who advanced into the area and guided a confident finish across Nathan Coe.
0-2 (Chris Harold 16')
For his next trick, midfield magician Marinkovic dispatched a through-ball that split the Victory defence and prompted Coe to charge out of his goal. Unfortunately for the hosts, Harold nipped in first to take the ball past the stranded goalkeeper, before sliding it into an unguarded net with the angle narrowing.
1-2 (Besart Berisha pen 58')
A slick passing move of one and two touches, including Leigh Broxham playing a back-heel to himself to wrong-foot Zadkovich, ended with Guilherme Finkler going to ground under Scott Jamieson's challenge.
Berisha made no mistake from the spot, sending Vukovic the wrong way and then exchanging verbals with the Perth keeper, who obviously didn't like what he heard from his old grand final nemesis, rushing forward to remonstrate with the match official.
It's debatable whether or not Jamieson got the ball before felling Finkler, but with referee Shaun Evans deeming it to be a foul, it's hard to understand how the left-back, who had already been booked, stayed on the pitch. If Glory had gone down to 10 men as well as conceding, could they have kept Victory out in the remaining 30 minutes?
Opta Data key stats
This game was proof of the fact the only numbers that really matter are those on the scoreboard. Victory bested Glory in just about every passing and attacking statistic, registering more shots, playing more passes, having more of the ball, passing it with more accuracy, winning more duels and playing in more crosses. But it's the team from WA who will head back across the Nullarbor with the spoils.
A nasty cut to the mouth in the second half prompted the Glory medical staff to transform Keogh into the A-League's answer to The Mummy. Although the Irishman might have got a gig into the Brendan Fraser remake, he wasn't a patch on the Boris Karloff original
The Final Word
Perth face one more major examination before the Asian Cup break when they host Adelaide at nib Stadium on Monday night. Josep Gombau's men have beaten Glory twice at Coopers Stadium in the league and the FFA Cup final this season but are yet to travel west in 2014-15.
Victory meanwhile will be confident of getting back to winning ways away to struggling Western Sydney on Tuesday.
Melbourne Victory: Coe, Geria, Ansell, Leijer, Galloway, Broxham, Valeri, Barbarouses (Pain 69'), Finkler, Thompson, Berisha.
Perth Glory: Vukovic, Risdon, Thwaite, Djulbic, Jamieson, Griffiths, Zadkovich, Marinkovic (Clisby 92'), Harold (Maclaren 64'), Garcia, Keogh (Sidnei 91').
Scorers: Keogh 9', Harold 16', Berisha pen 58'
Red cards: None
Yellow cards: Risdon 19, Jamieson 29', Zadkovich 52', Valeri 55'
Conditions: 36 degrees, dry
Attendace: 21,289@Simonds Stadium