Report: Guarrotxena powers Western to victory in battle of the A-League newcomers

Powered by Iker Guarrotxena, Western United has fired a warning shot to the rest of the A-League with an emphatic, 4-1 win over Macarthur FC in Ballarat. 

Much had been made of the arrival of Basque imports Markel Susaeta and Beñat Etxebarria – who between them made over 550 appearances for La Liga powers Athletic Bilbao – to Macarthur this season, but Saturday belonged to Western’s less-heralded Guarrotxena.

The 28-year-old, who spent several years in the Bilbao setup without playing a senior game, scored Western’s first goal and was integral in creating their second and fourth at Mars Stadium in a man-of-the-match performance.

In what was Western’s first-ever win at their Ballarat venue, Besart Berisha secured a bit of history of his own by moving into second on the all-time Australian national league scoring charts with a brace, while 21st birthday-boy Dylan Pierias also grabbed his third goal of the season. 

The three points earned by Mark Rudan’s side moves them into eighth place on the table and well in-touch with the top-six ahead of a ‘Battle of the Bridge with Melbourne Victory at Marvel Stadium next Saturday. 

“[It was] a good performance, very solid, displinced and hardened performance” Rudan said following the game. “Tactically we were supurb and the players worked there arses off.

“An extremely disciplined performance. Tactically it was perfect and the execution was great. It wasn’t a totally perfect [performance in total] as I beleive that we could have had another three or four easily.”

Though Matt Derbyshire did secure them a late consolation, the result leaves Macarthur at risk of being overhauled by Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC in the coming weeks; the chasing pack holding two, two and four games in hand over the A-League newcomers respectively. 

“I thought we started ok,” Macarthur coach Ante Miličić said. “But in the end they were difficult to break down in the initital stages of the first half and once they went a goal up… and I think the second one before halftime really hurt us.

“In saying that, we started well in the second half, had a couple of chances, but they’re a difficult team to get past and they’re a threat in transition. They were very clinical, they scored their chances and in the end it wasn’t our day.”

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As hinted at by Miličić, Western started the contest slowly; the Bulls’ early press preventing the hosts from staging an assault on their penalty area until the ninth minute.

But when they got going, Guarrotxena made sure they did so with a bang. 

Playing a one-two with Steven Lustica on the halfway line in the 27th minute, the Spaniard drove with purpose towards the Macarthur penalty area before, after teasing Etxebarria with a brief look at the ball, driving a long-range shot beyond the dive of Adam Federici and into the bottom left corner. 

“[Guarrotxena] was excellent,” said Rudan. “He was lively, energetic and he understands his role now. He’s hungry for information, he wants to understand his role better and it’s our job as coaches to explain to him exactly what is required.

“He was a bit iffy in the games that he’s played in terms of his positioning: When does he drop off? When he turns?

“But when he’s driving at players he’s got the freedom he wants.

“He wants to slip someone, slip them. Want to run with the ball and drive with the ball, do that. Want to shoot from distance like he did today, shoot. You’ve got to give these players freedom and trust in the attacking third.”

Western almost doubled there advantage five minutes later when Guarrotxena freed Pain to whip a dangerous ball from the left flank into the penalty area, only for Bulls’ defender Aleksandar Šušnjar to clear.

And despite starting the game strongly, the Bulls’ were now on the back foot.

They found themselves down 2-0 on the stroke of halftime when Guarrotxena spun around marker James Merideth and lasered a pass forward for Alessandro Diamanti to run onto. Spying the advancing Federici, the reigning Johnny Warren Medalist slid the ball across to teammate Besart Berisha to send into an open net. 

Macarthur was able to produce a series of chances to possibly make a contest in the second half, with English striker Derbyshire hitting the bar in the 49th and James Merideth and Ivan Franjic having shots cleared off the line in the 53rd and 60th minutes. 

Pierias would make no such errors at the other end, however; making it 3-0 in the 54th minute when he ran onto a pinpoint upfield pass from Diamanti, helped by Merideth pulling up lame with a soft tissue injury, and fired home. 

The youngster, who was involved in a controversial offside decision that went to VAR against Melbourne Victory, briefly had to sweat on another VAR check for a possible foul on Etxebarria but it was waved away. 

Berisha then put the cherry on the Green and Black sundae in the 66th minute when Guarrotxena executed a superb bit of close control inside the Bulls’ penalty area to manufacture a shot that bounced off the post and into the path of the Western striker to pounce on.

The goal moved him past former Socceroo Rod Brown on the all-time charts.

Derbyshire got his sixth goal of the season when he nodded in a Lachlan Rose cross in second-half stoppage time, but his reaction carried with it the knowledge it was little more than a consolation for his side.

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