Makeshift Perth Glory striker Jamie Harnwell scored the first hat-trick of the Hyundai A-League season on 26 November, as he inspired his side to a come-from-behind 4-1 victory over the New Zealand Knights at Members Equity Stadium, a result which virtually condemns the beaten team to a second successive wooden spoon finish.
The Knights got off to the proverbial flyer in the third minute of play, when the hard-working Alen Marcina made an angled run inside before slipping a slide-rule pass into the path of the fleet-of-foot Noah Hickey. He skipped past a couple of challenges before thrashing an unerring fifteen yard drive into the roof of the net, much to the stunned disbelief of the 6251 faithful present - by Perth’s standards, a woeful tally.
They were soon in full voice again, however, for after Naum Sekulovski had warmed the gloves of Mark Paston - one of six All Whites on the field in this encounter, Perth were on level terms through that man Harnwell.
David Tarka hoisted a free-kick forward from deep inside his own half which his former central defensive partner flicked on into Stuart Young’s path. The striker squared the ball to Stan Lazaridis, who played the ball behind Young to reward the surging run into space of Harnwell. He controlled the sphere before steering it wide of Paston from twelve yards.
That goal set the game up perfectly, with the Knights targeting victory in this match to close to within four points of Perth, the team nearest them on the league table. The home team, understandably, had ideas above their current station, events elsewhere this weekend rendering this match a must-win affair for them in their pursuit of a play-off place.
End-to-end action ensued for a spell, with Neil Emblen blazing a shot over the bar after Hickey had robbed countryman Jeremy Christie in the centre circle in the seventeenth minute. Perth responded seconds later through Young, whose cross, intended for the lurking figure of Lazaridis, was headed clear in timely fashion by Darren Bazeley.
Cue another Knights raid. Che Bunce beat Harnwell and fed Hickey - with Marcina, the pick of the visitors. The Canadian striker was the recipient of the New Zealand international’s pass after Hickey had evaded three challenges, Marcina’s low cross into the danger zone finding no-one in a white shirt on hand to do justice to the creativity of the move.
That twentieth minute move was followed two minutes later by another from the white-clad visitors. Dustin Wells took charge of proceedings, threading a pass through for Marcina, who linked well with Emblen. His delightful cross found Wells arriving on cue, and he brought a fine flying save out of Tommi Tomich, who flung himself to his right to paw the ball to safety.
After this, tempers started to get more than a little frayed, with the Knights’ Sime Kovacevic fortunate to avoid a red card on the half-hour for a poorly timed challenge on Adrian Webster. Instead, the offender aggravated a knee injury, which prompted his substitution before the interval.
Three minutes after Kovacevic’s booking, Jonas Salley, who was making his first appearance for the Knights since picking up an injury ten weeks ago, ensured his return would be fleeting by committing his second yellow card offence of the match. Referee Simon Przydacz had no option but to flourish the red card as well, meaning the visitors would have to play the remaining sixty-seven minutes with ten men on the park.
Suffice to say, Perth looked to make their numerical advantage count before the interval, and after Leo Bertos had warmed the gloves of countryman Paston from twenty-five yards, “The Shed” fans were celebrating in style three minutes before the break, as that man Harnwell did it again.
Bertos and Young linked up in midfield, the latter rolling the ball into the path of Sekulovski, as he moved forward to support the attack. The defender let fly with a stinging twenty-five yarder which Paston failed to clutch, the ‘keeper’s mistake mercilessly punished by Harnwell, who slid in to turn home the loose ball.
The Knights, despite their numerical disadvantage, began the second spell in far better fettle than the home team, who were guilty of undoing plenty of tidy approach play with final passes ranging from the pitiful to the pathetic in the opening fifteen minutes of the half.
Meanwhile, the visitors were making the most of their opponents’ wastefulness. Just twenty-eight seconds into the half, they came close to equalising. Hickey released Jonti Richter down the right, and his deep cross was met beyond the far post by Marcina, who was denied the goal his performance deserved by the alertness of Jamie Coyne.
Six minutes later, Wells and Bazeley linked neatly on the right, with the former supplying Marcina with a through ball. From the most acute of angles, the striker cracked a vicious angled shot goalwards, the crossbar being cleared by not a lot.
Four minutes later, lazy play by Tarka was pounced on by Wells, who had Richter and Marcina in support. The former Queensland player got the nod, Richter forcing Tomich to save at his near post.
On the hour mark, and against the run of play so far in the half, Perth killed off the Knights’ hopes of salvaging something from the game in style. Harnwell started the move, spraying the ball wide to Bertos before racing forward to a spot beyond the far post.
By the time he got there, the outnumbered Knights rearguard didn’t have anyone on hand to pick him up. Instead, Bertos, who had taken on Gregory Duruz before cutting inside, rolled the ball into Harnwell’s path. 3-1, and just the fourth hat-trick in the brief history of the A-League, for which the goalscorer was rewarded by being substituted.
His replacement, Luka Glavas, was soon in action, directing a looping header over the crossbar after half-time substitute, Bobby Despotovski, and Lazaridis had combined on the left.
Despotovski was in the thick of things again in the 68th minute, his neat back-heel on receipt of a Webster pass presenting Bertos with a chance to put Glavas in. The striker was only denied by a point-blank range block from Emblen, who had begun the game in attack but, upon Salley’s dismissal, found himself reverting to a defensive role for the duration.
Five minutes later, the Knights mounted another raid, with Hickey and Wells combining on the left. The former picked out Richter with a splendid cross, and the technical quality of the recipient’s volley was, quite simply, top drawer. So was Tomich’s reaction save to tip the ball over the bar.
Fourteen minutes from time, Paston made amends for his part in the second goal by producing a magnificent full-length diving save low to his right to keep out a measured Despotovski free-kick. The set-piece man had just seven minutes to wait for his revenge, however, as he delivered the coup de grace to cap off by far the best move of the match.
Perth pinged the ball round the ground as if they were the buffers in a pinball machine. A rapid-fire interchange of passes - at least ten in number, perhaps more - had the Knights chasing shadows, and by the time the ball reached Coyne, racing down the right, there wasn’t an opponent within yards of him.
The overlapping full-back’s measured cross picked out Despotovski, whose downward header bounced into the roof of the net to clinch Perth’s 4-1 triumph, which could have been greater - both David Micevski and Despotovski found Paston’s gloves, rather than the back of the net, in the remaining minutes.
The win lifts Perth into sixth spot, but leaves them well in the frame as far as the play-offs are concerned, for they are just six points from second spot on the table. The Knights, meanwhile … things go from bad to worse for the hapless bottom-of-the-table team, who are now nine points adrift of the field, and depending on results, could yet challenge the twenty-point margin which separated them from the rest last season.
Stand-in coach Barry Simmonds will be hoping that’s not the case, but with seven games to play, and all the other teams in play-off contention, the signs do not look good.