Glory’s El Maestro conducts five-star performance against feckless Phoenix


In a spellbinding display of mesmerising individual skill and voracious collective hunger, orchestrated by virtuoso attacking midfielder, “El Maestro,” Diego Castro, Perth clinically dismantled Wellington’s resistance in this distance derby. Traditionally a highly competitive fixture, this mismatch was more akin to a demolition derby.

Pretty much a dead rubber for the Perth team, if Wellington could avoid losing by two clear goals, they would proceed to an away elimination final against Adelaide United, avoiding a trip to in-form Melbourne Victory.

But the 5-0 scoreline entails a match up with the Melbourne powerhouse on Friday 3rd May, which Phoenix go into with some confidence having had three stalemates with them this season, the draw flattering Victory on at least one occasion.

Perth Glory have a home semi-final on Friday 10th May against the lowest placed survivor of the elimination finals, and on the basis of this display, they have a huge opportunity to prevail over possible opponents Melbourne City, Adelaide United or Phoenix and book their first home A-League Grand Final at state-of-the-art Optus Stadium.

Glory set out its stall in the first ten minutes, with forwards Chris Ikonomidis and Andy Keogh troubling stand in Phoenix ‘keeper Oliver Sail. But it could have started badly when Glory ‘keeper Liam Reddy almost back-heeled a back pass into his own net, under pressure from Wellington’s man-bunned, former St Johnstone, Irish forward, Cillian Sheridan.


But it was all Glory after that.

The first breach came in the 24th minute. Ikonomidis got to the goal line on the left and crossed for Castro. Although stooping, Castro powerfully directed his header on target from 15m out. Keogh was positioned well to mop up the rebound from Sail’s save and headed in from close range.

Then again in the 31st minute Keogh was on hand to head home to make it 2-0. Jason Davidson and Ikonomidis harmonised well on the left and centred the ball to Castro in the penalty area. El Maestro seemed to dither for an age, but the Phoenix couldn’t or daren’t dispossess him. He masterfully meandered to the goal line and slipped the ball back to Davidson on the left of the six-yard box. Davidson crossed onto Keogh’s head who accurately dispatched it low to the keeper’s right.

Keogh had a gilt-edged opportunity to seal his hat-trick in the 37th minute, but with the goal at his mercy he directed it to the welcoming arms of a grateful Sail.

The first half ended 2-0. The result seemed certain, only its magnitude remained in doubt.

The second half started with the Perth side again on top and it was no surprise when the third goal went in after 51 minutes. Castro made no mistake from just inside the box courtesy of an Ivan Franjic cutback from the right. 3-0.

El Maestro continued to delight the crowd and confound the visitors, most notably in the 54th minute. Picking up the ball in an innocuous midfield position he performed a gratuitous casual nutmeg on the hapless Antony Golec, finding a teammate on the right to set up another Glory attack.

When Castro slipped a ball through to Ikonomidis from the centre circle in the 65th minute, the promising young Socceroo’s cool head and clinical finish gave Sail no chance. 4-0.

Wellington’s hopes had set Sail and it was time for Nix fans to click “confirm purchase” on the flights to Melbourne.

But El Maestro was far from finished. He picked up the ball just outside the right corner of the 18-yard line and unleashed a pass that allowed the substitutes to shine. Joel Chianese received Castro’s ball and squared across the goal from the right, finding veteran forward Brendon Santalab to score possibly his last professional goal. 5-0.

The soon-to-retire Santalab was in leavers party mood now and nearly made it 6-0 in injury time, but his shot unfortunately shaved the outside of the post.

Three minutes were added after the regulation 90 minutes, but the ref invoked the mercy rule and blew for time early. Glory had inflicted a comprehensive rout on their distant rivals and El Maestro had a hand (or was it a conductor’s baton?) in all five goals.

Nix coach Mark Rudan: “We got what we came for” Photo: Paul McNeela

With audacious chutzpah after the match, departing Phoenix coach Mark Rudan claimed, “We’ve got what we came for. The result is completely irrelevant. It would have been ridiculous of me to play my best eleven tonight.”

Glory coach Tony Popovic: “Castro provided leadership on and off the ball.” Photo: Paul McNeela

Tony Popovic hailed the performance of Castro: “He provided leadership on and off the ball.” The meticulous and inspirational Glory coach has proved his undoubted qualities in transforming the Perth underachievers in one season. He has also proved himself to be a master of understatement. Somewhat.

Perth Glory: Reddy, Davidson, Neville, Djublic, Franjic, Spiranovic, Brimmer, Kilkenny (K. Popovic), Ikonomidis (Santalab), Keogh (Chianese), Castro.

Wellington Phoenix: Sail, Golec, Taylor, R. Lowry, Cacace, Stensness, Mandi (Burgess), Williams (Kopczynski, Singh, Sheridan (Krishna), Waine.

Attendance: 9,875





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Scozzie reporting on A-League and other stuff from the Indian Ocean shores. St. Johnstone fan. Follow me on twitter @perthmcneela.

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