Late drama as WARD equalises

A spectacular 87th-minute strike from substitute Nick Ward earned Perth Glory a deserved share of the spoils from a keenly-contested clash with Western Sydney Wanderers at Patersons Stadium.

A spectacular 87th-minute strike from substitute Nick Ward earned Perth Glory a deserved share of the spoils from a keenly-contested clash with Western Sydney Wanderers at Patersons Stadium.

The in-form visitors had looked set to produce a repeat of their week 7 victory at nib Stadium when Labinot Haliti fired them in front shortly before the break.

But the home side piled on the pressure in the latter stages and finally got their reward when the impressive Ryo Nagai picked out Ward at the far post and he thundered an unstoppable shot in off the underside of the crossbar.

Visitors' coach Tony Popovic had raised plenty of eyebrows by making six changes to the side that hammered six past Adelaide last time out, with hat-trick hero Mark Bridge dropped to the bench and marquee man Shinji Ono left out of the squad altogether.

But the gamble almost paid dividends as the red and blacks were within sight of a fourth successive win before Ward popped up to bag his second goal of the season and extend Glory's unbeaten run to three games.

Despite the mercury still hovering in the 30s at kick-off time, both sides adopted a high-intensity, hard-pressing approach in the opening period, with time and space very much at a premium as a result.

Frustrated by the amount of congestion down the middle, Glory were at their most threatening out wide where Nagai and Chris Harold appeared to have the measure of their respective markers in terms of both pace and guile.

Nagai, in particular, made an instant impact on his starting debut for the club, giving Tarek Elrich a torrid time and drawing roars of approval from the home fans with a string of clever touches and neat flicks as the half wore on.

In Haliti, however, the Wanderers also had a wideman who looked very much in the mood and having handed Glory an early scare when he picked Josh Risdon's pocket only to see his angled shot blocked, the former Newcastle attacker went one better on 38 minutes.

Young striker Joey Gibbs was the architect of the move, picking up possession inside the centre circle and driving forward before picking out Haliti bursting through the left channel.

Feigning to shoot with his left, the man from Kosovo instead cut inside and bent a superb right-foot shot wide of Danny Vukovic's despairing dive into the far corner of the net before racing away for a prolonged celebration with the knot of Wanderers fans who had made the long trip west.

Prior to going behind, Glory's best efforts had been a couple of half-chances that fell the way of Steven McGarry, but they came close to restoring parity shortly before the break when Nagai crossed for Shane Smeltz who got in front of Michael Beauchamp at the near post only to see 'keeper Ante Covic block his close-range effort.

Half-time Perth Glory 0-1 Western Sydney Wanderers

Having conceded just two goals on the road all season, Wanderers were always likely to prove a hard nut to crack defensively and Glory coach Ian Ferguson opted to try and break the game open by making tactical switch on the hour mark.

Harold was replaced by Billy Mehmet who was pushed up alongside Smeltz to provide the Kiwi striker with some additional support.

The home side duly cranked up the pressure by forcing a series of corners and for the first time in the game, the visitors' started to creak at the back.

Glory appeared to be getting the upper hand, but they suffered a major blow ten minutes before the end when Michael Thwaite was forced off with what looked like a calf injury.

Ferguson's response was to switch to a three-man backline as his side chased the game in the latter stages and they came agonisingly close to leveling things up on 83 minutes when Liam Miller's headed effort from a McGarry cross beat Covic but was cleared off the line by the alert Beauchamp.

Undeterred, however, the hosts continued to pour forward and four minutes later Ward found the net in spectacular style after more excellent approach work from Nagai.

Indeed, the men in purple could even have nicked the win in a frantic finale as Smeltz saw his goalbound header blocked by a cluster of Wanderers defenders with Covic already beaten.